GROWING up in Philadelphia, Margaret Arbuckle learned about the Liberty Bell but knew practically nothing about farming. Now a second-grade teacher in the nation's largest agricultural state, she says the basic curriculum includes barely a mention of the importance of farming to American heritage. "The history books might touch briefly on how the Industrial Revolution drew people from the land," she says.
Three days of farm visits to wheat, dairy, and almond farms, interviews with farmers and farm experts, and tours of production facilities have changed Ms. Arbuckle's approach to teaching altogether. Using ideas suggested by a state program designed to inform educators about the issues facing the farm community (see main story), she now incorporates agricultural themes into lessons on subjects such as science, history, math, social studies, and reading.
"My class will be raising a pig and growing rice, cotton, and corn this year," says Arbuckle. "There has been a gap of ignorance about agricultural issues in the normal curriculum."
Students will explore questions that relate to farm products. "If we don't teach these kids about the importance of these issues now, by the time they are our age, it will be too late," says Arbuckle.
One of her lesson plans illustrates her point: Chopping an apple into four quarters, she removes three to designate that part of the earth taken up by water. Of the final quarter, she removes two thirds - designating desert and polar-ice lands. Of the final third, she peels the skin to show that amount of farmland now remaining worldwide to feed a burgeoning global population.
"I've learned that the implications of dwindling farmland reach into such issues as depleted wetlands, ozone depletion, air quality, and foreign trade," says Arbuckle.