While the Franklin County Farm Bureau Women’s Committee was recently recognized for doing the Best Activity in the Mid-West District for 2019, it was Franklin County’s elementary school children and their teachers who were the real winners.
The Women’s Committee’s project was to host “Sprouting Success with Ag in the Classroom – AITC Teacher Training,” which was held for Franklin County’s third through fifth grade teachers on Sept. 16.
About 90 teachers attended the after-school training held at the Gereau Center. The teachers received an Ag in the Classroom lessons plans booklet and a lesson binder provided by the women’s committee. Afterwards, about six schools contacted the women’s committee for more help with teaching students where their food comes from by helping with agricultural lessons and events.
Abby Brubaker, a fifth grade science teacher at Boones Mill Elementary School, attended the training. She described the training as “very insightful” and added “there are already so many resources ready that we could easily get to.”
With the women’s committee’s help, Brubaker and her students started growing lettuce second semester using hydroponics. The students spent about a month researching the project and watching videos before engaging in the growth process.
The growth process started in a seedlings tray that had sponges in a large plastic tray with water and fertilizer. After seven to 10 days, the sprouts were transplanted into a large hydroponics unit. While the students were growing hydroponic lettuce, they were also growing lettuce using the traditional soil method.
With COVID-19, the students only experienced two weeks of hands-on work with the lettuce. In their absence, Brubaker continued to take measurements and pictures of the lettuce that she sent to the students through Google Classroom. The students then took the information and graphed it to compare the growth rate of soil-grown lettuce versus hydroponic lettuce.
Growing lettuce was a new experience for student Addison Hylton.
“Before the project, I didn’t even know what a hydroponic system was,” Hylton said.
It was easy to learn how to grow the lettuce, Hylton said, and students liked the experiment of comparing the two growth methods. With constant light and water, hydroponic lettuce far outgrew the soil-grown lettuce.
The crop was harvested twice and was used to help feed Boones Mill students as the cafeteria workers put the lettuce in meal bags for students to pick up during the school closure.
To show the fifth graders the results of their hydroponic lettuce project, Brubaker and Boones Mill Elementary School Principal Amy Shaver made a video that they sent to the students. Brubaker took pictures and Shaver produced the video — it received more than 1,000 views on Facebook.
“This has been a wonderful opportunity,” Shaver said. “Every grade level between third and fifth covered at least one agricultural lesson. My teachers and I feel strongly that we should be connected to our agriculture.”
She added that it’s important for students to understand what “farm to table” means.
Henry Elementary School is another school that took advantage of the teacher training and resources provided by the women’s committee. The school’s fourth graders engaged in a mapping project in which they learned how to read a map using the numbers and letters grid, as well as discovered the regions of Virginia where certain agricultural products come from.
“I would just like to thank the Farm Bureau for their commitment to our students. The teachers implemented some fantastic lessons prior to the school closure. It is our hope to utilize those same or similar lessons next year,” said Henry Elementary School Principal Robin Whitmer.
“The Franklin County Farm Bureau Women’s Committee works hard to help teach people and students where their food comes from,” said Debbie Brubaker, of the Farm Bureau’s Women’s Committee and 2019 recipient of the National Agriculture Advocate Award. “It means a lot to be chosen from our district to be a leader in accomplishing this goal.”
Brubaker expressed the committee’s desire to continue to help teachers provide agricultural education in the classroom and to make their jobs easier.
Franklin County Farm Bureau is one of 88 in the Virginia Farm Bureau Federation. With 129,000 members, VFBF is Virginia’s largest farmers’ advocacy group. Farm Bureau is a non-governmental, nonpartisan, voluntary organization committed to supporting Virginia’s agriculture industry.