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Ag in the Classroom pivots under COVID-19

Canadian Agricultural Partnership funding has been announced to help the organization switch to a more virtual program delivery

Sue Clayton, executive director for Manitoba’s Agriculture in the Classroom, says new government funding will help the organization bolster online resources in the age of COVID-19.

Why it matters: Agriculture in the Classroom typically offers hands-on ag experience to Manitoba students, but that will look different in the coming year.

The federal and provincial governments recently announced up to $146,000 in Canadian Agricultural Partnership (CAP) funding for the organization to shift its delivery method.

“The pandemic has renewed many Manitobans’ interest in our food, where it comes from and how it gets from farm to table,” Manitoba Agriculture and Resource Development Minister Blaine Pedersen said in a release. “This investment will help educate Manitoba’s youth on the importance of agriculture in Manitoba and the role it plays in our everyday lives.”

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Clayton says the money will go to developing interactive online material and platforms to access it.

While not abandoning its in-person programming, Agriculture in the Classroom hopes to develop a “hybrid delivery model,” with a mix of live and recorded presentations and interactive and downloadable resources.

“We have to develop them so they can be used either in a classroom or could be used at home with parents,” Clayton said. “It’s very different. We’ve always been thinking just of educators, but now we need to think about parents doing this with their kids at home in case that happens again.”

Manitoba Public Health has recommended several classes be returned to remote learning since the start of September due to active COVID-19 cases.

Agriculture in the Classroom’s teacher professional development, usually held in person, will likewise shift online.

The Agriculture in the Classroom website is also up for an upgrade through the funding.

“We have to be able to reach more teachers and students in this virtual way,” Clayton said. “Our website’s pretty old, so that will definitely help.”

COVID-19 has already hit at Agriculture in the Classroom’s operations. The organization had planned to welcome Grade 4-5 students to its cancelled Amazing Agriculture Adventure events in Brandon, Russell and Winnipeg this year.

Brandon’s Ag Days has also cancelled its 2021 in-person event. Agriculture in the Classroom typically hosts Grade7-8 students in the Manitoba Ag Days Adventure every day of the yearly event.

The usual schedule for Canadian Agriculture Literacy Month in March 2021 is, likewise, expected to fall prey to the pandemic. The month typically features in-class visits between students and producers or other representatives of the ag industry.

Clayton says the CAP funding will get Ag in the Classroom started on its transition, although further fundraising is expected.

“The money that CAP is giving us this year just gets it started,” she said, noting that the pandemic has likely changed their organization’s operations permanently. “We have a three-year plan, so we’re hoping to raise more money in Year 2 and Year 3 to be able to develop more of these virtual games, virtual programs for kids.”

The organization launched five online resources focused on the potato, dairy and egg sectors during the province’s Food and Farm Awareness Week in late September.

About the author

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Alexis Stockford

Alexis Stockford is a journalist and photographer with the Manitoba Co-operator. She previously reported with the Morden Times and was news editor of  campus newspaper, The Omega, at Thompson Rivers University in Kamloops, BC. She grew up on a mixed farm near Miami, Man.

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