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Morris Area FFA brings ag message to Minneapolis school

By Carol Stender

Date Modified: 06/18/2012 2:25 PM

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MINNEAPOLIS — The Andersen United Community School's playground is normally filled with playing youngsters. For one day, it turned into an agricultural learning center.

Thirty-two Morris Area FFAers, assisted by chapters from Kerkhoven-Murdock-Sunburg; New London-Spicer; Detroit Lakes; Minnewauska; Lac Qui Parle; and Dassel-Cokato, brought ag to the Minneapolis school's classrooms.

The Morris Area chapter has conducted ag literacy programs at their own school for 7 years and at Twin Cities schools for the past three, said Morris Area FFA advisor and ag instructor Natasha Mortenson.

The FFAers broke into 10 teaching groups. Each visited five classrooms and provided 40 minutes of fun, hands-on activities.

Morris Area FFAer Brooke Wente designed the program using Minnesota Department of Agriculture Ag in the Classroom materials. In a booklet she helped design, Wente included a "Who's Who?" page for students to draw a line from the father to babies and to the mothers of different ag animals. Students learned the ram was the dad, the lamb was the baby and the ewe was the mother.

The FFAers, using cow puppets, described the milking process and how milk travels from the farm to the grocery store.

When asked where their pizza came from, several students shouted "Pizzaland!"

The FFA'ers asked again this time focusing on the ingredients. One said chicken feet.

"We all put different things on our pizza," said FFA member Mac Beyer. He directed their attention to a worksheet featuring a pizza and its ingredients.

A three to four minute video describing farm activities was new this year.

Andersen United Community School fifth grade teacher Steven Date filmed the scenes in west central Minnesota.

He learned about Morris Area's ag literacy program at the 2011 FFA convention while covering it for the non-profit news organization MinnPost. He interviewed several Morris Area FFA members who told Date about their inner-city classroom visits.

Date contacted Mortenson and, with fellow ag instructor and FFA advisor Nick Milbrandt, worked on the video.

Included in the video are pictures with commentary about agriculture from farmers.

The school has 1,200 students in grades kindergarten through eighth grade. Many students live in poverty and most are students of color.

They don't have a farm connection and many have not seen a cow nor do the know about crops.

"These kinds of things are stressed in the curriculum," he said. "We are under pressure to perform well on standardized tests. Everything is geared to meet those test scores, but it is just as important to teach about nutrition and where our food comes from."

At the end of the classroom sessions, students came to the playground where livestock were housed in portable pens. FFAers explained how farmers care for livestock.

Students were eager to touch the livestock.

Nearby, Stevens County farmers prepared hamburgers on a grill for students and staff.

Morris cattlemen Dave Wulf and John Moser worked with West Central Cattlemen and other groups to prepare the meal.

Ag in the Classroom program director Al Withers was excited to see the connection made between the farm and city.

Programs like Morris Area FFA's ag literacy effort are a win-win for all, he said. Urban students learn more about their food and FFAers learn about urban culture.

Several state lawmakers and Minnesota Agriculture Commissioner Dave Frederickson attended.

Morris Area freshman Mike Rausch said he was surprised how much the students didn't know about food's origins.

Junior Xochil Mendez agreed.

"It's exciting," she said of the program and the students' ag connection.