Get Home Delivery of The Observer for only $8.50 per month, $9.50 for motor routes. Just click here and after filling out one simple and secure online form you could be on your way to learning more information about local, state and world news.
For a teacher, there’s nothing like playing the role of student to bolster your method.
heading to the farm: From left, participants of the Summer Agricultural Institute Rose Burbee of Seal Rock, Linda Serbus of Florence, Robbe Ostby of Keizer and Joni Swanson of Lebanon are greeted by one of their local hosts for the evening, Tish Beck of Alicel. Several area residents volunteered to take in students for a night, providing them opportunities for hands-on experience at a working farm or ranch. - The Observer/CHRIS BAXTER
And for those instructors interested in relating all sorts of subjects to agriculture, it’s even better if you can play student out under the sun, standing amongst goats or mint plants, hearing it straight from the experts.
The 2008 Summer Agriculture Institute, implemented every year by the Oregon Agricultural Education Foundation through Oregon State University, is specifically geared toward kindergarten through 12th-grade teachers with little or no experience with agriculture.
It puts them through the ringer, giving them a crash course in subjects like wheat production and cattle husbandry — enough instruction to earn participants three graduate credits with OSU.
There are two SAI seminars offered, one based in Corvallis, the other in La Grande. The latter session is administered by Jana Lee Dick and John Tanaka, both of the OSU Eastern Oregon Agricultural Research Center; Dick is the project coordinator, Tanaka the instructor.
This year’s curriculum, spread over last week, was typically intensive and varied. The group made stops from Pendleton to Baker City, visited with local farmers and ranchers and learned from a diverse suite of agricultural researchers.
“We’ve just got a really great group of farmers, ranchers and businesspeople who are passionate about getting this information out to teachers,” Dick said. “And not just to learn what they do, but why they do it.”
Just a sampling of their activities: On Monday, the class was hearing about timber management and ruminant nutrition from Eastern Oregon Agricultural Research Center scientists; they visited Julie and Jay Spratling’s wheat farm in Helix on Tuesday; they learned about mint distilling with Peter Nilsson and Becky Hammond in Cove on Wednesday; on Thursday, they discussed ever-important water issues with Ken Diebel, the Oregon Department of Agriculture’s Eastern Oregon water quality specialist, on Thursday; and delved into beef cattle artificial insemination and genetics in the Baker Valley on Friday.
Each participant stayed with a host family on a working farm or ranch on Thursday evening (bunking on the EOU campus for the remainder). The seminar culminated Friday night with an appreciation dinner for everyone involved, and presentations by the participants on what they’d learned.
Judging from a sampling mid-week, the participating teachers are taking a great deal of inspiration back home after their Northeast Oregon tour.
Shayne Kimball, who teaches in Adrian in Malheur County, had previously attended the Corvallis SAI seminar.
“I had such a great time in Corvallis last year that there was no doubt in my mind that I’d do the La Grande one,” he said.
The two programs complemented one another, Kimball said.
“Every time we go and talk to a different farmer, we’re looking at a different aspect,” he noted.
Teaching in a community heavily invested in farming and ranching, Kimball said SAI provided invaluable background into one of the state’s leading industries.
“I feel like, if I’m going to be a teacher there, I need to be able to understand (agriculture),” he said.
Laura Wolf, an elementary instructor from Oregon City, said she had little prior experience with agriculture, but felt compelled to learn more.
“Being a teacher in Oregon, it’s so important for me to have an understanding of agriculture,” she said.
On a broad tier, Wolf enjoyed exposure to different stages of the food production process. She wants to introduce her gardening students to soil testing, a topic covered during the SAI, to get “a connection between the starting and finished product.”
She was also stimulated by the diversity of her fellow participants, and the researchers and producers helping steer the course. Imparting a sense of this variety in perspective and lifestyle, Wolf said, was a crucial component of her job.
“Hopefully, that’s what educators are good at.”
Carolyn Koskela, another participant, spends her days teaching combined grades in a two-room schoolhouse in Frenchglen. She was keen on some of the larger themes threading together the week’s many presentations, like water availability and resource management.
In her farflung classroom, she likes to focus on big concepts that tie together multiple subjects. This year, she’s focusing on change — and finding much on that topic in the ever-shifting world of agricultural research and economics.
Koskela’s class spans multiple ages, but all the students, she said, hail from agricultural backgrounds. Tying a particular subject into the context of that agrarian heritage is a constant educational goal of hers.
“To relate it to something in their ranching life is the way to make them interested,” she said.
Koskela was energized by the other ag teachers around her. Such exposure to other teaching ideas and perspectives is essential, she said, especially given her isolated location.
“If I don’t have that experience, I don’t feel I’m growing like I want my kids to,” she said.
Linda Serbus, a high school teacher from Waldport, was looking forward to applying a number of ideas gleaned from the institute, like investigating green manure and culturing nematodes.
Her colleague, Rose Burbee, who also attended the SAI, would be taking samples of wheat back to their coastal school to teach home ec students about grain and flour varieties.
Serbus was excited about Thursday night’s stay with a local producer. “That’s going to be the pinnacle,” she said.
In the end, the teachers seemed most eager to bring a little of what they learned to the kids they instruct every day. Serbus pointed out that emerging generations seem more and more removed from the food production process.
As Kimball puts it, the SAI is all about “how to incorporate agriculture into the classroom.”
For more information about the SAI, or to contribute to the program through the Oregon Agricultural Education Foundation, call Dick at 562-5129.