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National Ag Ed Conference comes to Minnesota this summer

By Janet Kubat Willette

Date Modified: 03/05/2013 9:18 AM

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ST. PAUL — Interested in education or agriculture?

Minnesota Agriculture in the Classroom is planning a conference right up your alley. The 2013 National Agricultural Education Conference, "Land of 10,000 Ag Opportunities," is June 25-28 at the Marriott City Center, Minneapolis.

Al Withers, program director for Minnesota Agriculture in the Classroom, said the target audience for the conference is all kindergarten through grade 12 teachers, commodity and agricultural organization leaders, volunteers who do agriculture in the classroom presentations, 4-H leaders, homeschool parents, Extension educators — really anybody interested in education or agriculture.

Curriculum specialists will find information on incorporating agriculture into curriculum and people from the Department of Health have signed up, drawn by workshops on school gardens and healthy eating.

Teachers from across the United States will attend, plus 45 people who serve as state agriculture in the classroom leaders.

The attendance goal is 500 people.

This is the first time in its 27 years of existence that Minnesota Agriculture in the Classroom has hosted the national conference, Withers said.

It gives Minnesota the opportunity to showcase its agriculture, he said.

One way Minnesota agriculture will be showcased is through 11 unique tours offered June 27. The tours board between 8:15 a.m. and 9 a.m. and return at 6 p.m. The furthermost site out is 80 miles.

Tour stops include:

• Tamarack Lamb and Wool near Hinckley, where Janet McNally trains and breeds guard dogs. She started breeding and training the dogs to guard her sheep flock against wolves, coyotes, black bear, red fox and cougar.

• Gardens of Eagan, one of the state's earliest organic farms.

• Bailey's Nurseries, the fourth-largest wholesale nursery in the nation.

• A 46-acre Hmong garden plot collectively farmed by up to a dozen families.

• Faribault Woolen Mill, where blankets, throws and accessories are still being made on the banks of the Cannon River.

• Guardian Energy, a 110-million-gallon ethanol plant in Janesville.

• General Mills, one of the world's largest food companies.

• Mill City Museum. Minneapolis was known as the "Flour Milling Capitol of the World" from 1880 to about 1930.

•A dairy farm, turkey farm, malting company, Canterbury Park, a winery, a grain farm, an orchard and a pork production facility.

There are 32 stops in total.

The tours will be clearly marked so participants will know how far they'll be traveling, Withers said. There's no way to show the depth and breadth of Minnesota's agriculture industry without leaving the seven-county metropolitan area.

They are weak on wild rice and sugar beets because they are too far out, so they hope these commodities will exhibit at the show. They are still putting together the exhibition, he said.

Television personality, chef, food writer and teacher Andrew Zimmern is the keynote speaker. His presentation will be on global food and culture.

Award-winning children's author Cris Peterson will address the conference on June 26. Peterson grew up in Minneapolis and now lives on a Grantsburg, Wis., dairy farm with her husband and three children.

She is the author of 10 children's books, including "Harvest Year" and "Century Farm: One Hundred Years on a Family Farm."

One of the June 27 tours includes a stop at her farm.

Workshops will follow Peterson's address. Forty-six workshops are planned in four different sessions over two days, June 26 and June 28. Workshops will cover the gamut of agriculture and curriculum ranging from Growing a Colonial Garden to A Cornucopia of Science Activities from Soil to Space.

On June 28, 15 interactive learning labs are planned. Participants will go from station to station, grazing on the presentations, Withers said.

Everyone will go away with something they can apply at home or in their classroom, he said.

Withers suggests local agricultural organizations consider getting involved by sponsoring a teacher. CHS Foundation is also offering 40 scholarships to teachers who apply by March 1.

Sponsors are also sought for the conference.

Contact Charlene Klein, executive director of Minnesota Agriculture in the Classroom Foundation at (952) 288-3905 or for more information on sponsorship opportunities.