This past year Steve and I have been blessed to have two pen pal classes. We participate in a program through Nebraska Farm Bureau
that pairs teachers with farmers. Throughout the school year we send letters back and forth to get to know one another. We have been writing to fourth graders in Columbus and kindergartners in Omaha.
The goal of the program is to connect children to agriculture. For a few years we were writing to a school in Lincoln. I remember how surprised I was at their questions. Do you ever go to Lincoln? Do you grow all of the food you eat? Do you make your own clothes? I realized that there is a huge disconnect between what kids think about farm life and the reality of farm life.
Through letter writing we begin a relationship with the students. We begin by telling them a little about who we are, our family and what we do. The kids write back with questions about our lives and information about what they are studying in school. We respond with answers and some questions for them. We also like to send them things like beef jerky and soybean chapstick.
As the kids came into the classroom we showed them several food items. They were to figure out how much of the total cost went back to the farmer.
The highlight of the year is the classroom visit. Steve and I went to Columbus in March to visit our pen pals there. We brought pencils with hamburger shaped erasers and booklets about agriculture to color thanks to the Nebraska Beef Council
We had an activity where the kids had to guess what the farmer’s share was of the cost of food. We had items like potato chips, flour, bacon, milk and a loaf of bread. The kids were amazed at how little the farmer’s share was for many of the food items. We talked about the what happens between the farm and the fork and how many jobs are tied to agriculture.
We also brought samples of ingredients we use in cattle rations. A repetitive question they had concerned how much the cattle ate each day. When we compared the amount to the size of the classroom trashcan they were amazed but satisfied. Before we left we gathered together for a group picture.
Steve and I are in the middle of the group in the back. They put all of the fourth grade together for us to meet with.
Last week I made a visit to our Omaha class. The school is located in a part of Omaha that was a little out of my comfort zone, especially when I had to go through some residential areas thanks to my GPS-guided directions. I showed up at the school carrying two big totes of items, a large poster board case and an easel in a homemade cloth bag. Fortunately the teacher met me at the door as I am sure I would have been cause for suspicion.
The 52 kindergartners were all sitting on the floor as I entered the classroom. I had some 11×14 photos on foam board to show the kids our feedlot and farm. As I was getting the metal easel out and adjusting the legs the kids were oohing and ahhing. I told them it was just an easel, not an implement from the farm! The teachers laughed and pointed to another wooden easel in the room to help them understand.
The kids were awesome and so curious. We talked about how eating beef gives you ZIP (zinc, iron and protein) and how that helps you build muscles. We talked about taking care of cattle and the difference between animals that live in your house as pets and animals we raise for food. The kids asked me questions they had about our farm. Each of them had the chance to smell and touch the feed ingredients I brought.
We gathered around on the floor for a quick
picture before they had to go to their next class.
As the kids prepared to leave I handed them a bag with more items like a yellow ruler from the Nebraska Corn Board
, soy colors from the Nebraska Soybean Board
and the Beef Council
items mentioned before. One of the kids received a blue hamburger eraser and said to me “How did you know my favorite color is blue?”
One group was left as I was putting my things away. A little girl came over and hugged my leg. It started a chain reaction as more of the kids came over and gave me a hug. Honestly I nearly cried. I was surrounded by these beautiful children who go home every night to the neighborhoods I was afraid of. I can only hope that the relationship we build with these kids goes beyond understanding agriculture. I hope they never forget how much we care.