Summer institutes connecting teachers, farmers, Earth Day

Series of summer events will focus on Earth Day, which celebrates its 50th anniversary next April.

Francis Vahlkamp, right, St. Clair County Farm Bureau ag literacy coordinator, completes a field map activity to show students how drone technology improves farmland production. Looking on is Mindy Sowers, McDonough County ag literacy coordinator. Ag literacy coordinators last week learned several activities that will be used at Summer Ag Institutes. (Photo by Kay Shipman)

By Kay Shipman

Illinois Agriculture in the Classroom (IAITC) wants farmers’ contributions to the environment shared with students across the state, especially on Earth Day.

This year’s Summer Agriculture Institutes, which provide educators in-depth study of ag topics and classroom lessons, will focus on Earth Day. The 50th anniversary of Earth Day will be marked April 22, 2020.

“There’s a misconception that farmers don’t care about the Earth. We have new, different activities to show how farmers care,” Brad Banning, IAITC education manager, told county ag literacy coordinators last week. 

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County Farm Bureaus will host 38 institutes this summer. Ag literacy coordinators received lessons and practiced hands-on activities that will be used at the institutes and throughout 2020.

In an activity highlighting drone technology, students create a field map with yellow and green construction paper shapes that represent less and more fertile areas. Students then calculate fertilizer costs and try to rearrange their map pieces to achieve the lowest input cost.

In another activity, fresh fruit provides educators, especially middle school and high school teachers, a different way to teach students about meat processing and food waste, said Kevin Daugherty, IAITC education director.

Holding a fresh pineapple, Daugherty explained teachers can discuss processing and food waste by preparing a pineapple and comparing the weights of each edible and nonedible part. The pineapple can represent an animal that is harvested. In comparison to nonedible parts of a pineapple, the livestock industry has many byproducts for parts of animal carcasses.

“Hopefully, this will get teachers thinking, ‘What are you doing with that (stems, peels, seeds)?’ versus the animal industry that has thought about that and has uses,” Daugherty said.

Summer Ag Institute materials are available online at