AITC out of the classroom, but still in the game

Agriculture in the Classroom Manitoba looks into 2021, COVID-19 restrictions and all

The last 12 months have been a period for resource development for Agriculture in the Classroom Manitoba (AITC-M), and executive director Sue Clayton says there’s more coming down the pipe as the calendar ticks into another year under COVID-19 restrictions.

“It’s really changed our thinking on how we do our programming and that’s only going to be for the better, for us to be able to offer more programs to teachers, more opportunities to students to learn where their food comes from,” Clayton said.

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The organization outlined plans to pivot under COVID-19 last year, including the development of new online resources and distributable classroom materials.

In fall 2020, the federal and provincial government announced $146,000 in Canadian Agricultural Partnership funding to help the organization make the jump to more remote delivery.

Some of those funds bore fruit this January. Topped off by $10,000 from the Ag Days Gives Back fund, AITC-M introduced a virtual interactive resource in place of the Manitoba Ag Days Adventure. The normal in-person event is geared for Grade 7 and 8 students and dovetails with the wider Manitoba Ag Days farm show in Brandon.

AITC-M developed a model “world game,” echoing a similar, physical activity normally integrated into the morning of the Manitoba Ag Days Adventure to outline global food production.

The Ag Days program is geared, “to get kids to think global but act local,” Clayton said.

“The morning is all about the global and Canada’s imports and exports and what’s grown in other countries and the importance of the worldwide agriculture industry, and then in the afternoon the kids go around to the different booths and they learn about the local industry and all the careers involved in the local industry,” she said.

Manitoba Ag Days was also forced to cancel its 2021 in-person show, replaced by a slimmed-down virtual offering.

AITC-M has currently tapped teachers to pilot the virtual “world game.” The organization hopes to fully launch the resource at Ag Days 2022.

The virtual option will increase accessibility for more far-flung teachers, Clayton noted.

It’s a shift that Clayton expects to endure long past pandemic restrictions.

While COVID-19 largely wiped out in-person programming for most of 2020, and will likely do the same for much of this year, Clayton said restrictions also pushed the organization to branch further into developing remote resources. The organization’s “weather game,” for example, normally run during Amazing Agriculture Adventure programs later in the year, is also getting a virtual counterpart, she noted.

“Our goal, kind of our North Star goal, is that all students who graduate from Grade 12 in Manitoba will be agriculture-literate citizens. To do that, that means that we need to be able to be in every classroom in Manitoba at various grade levels,” she said.

Clayton predicted that future AITC-M schedules will include parallel virtual programming to run alongside in-person events.

Further into 2021

The organization has already cancelled in-person events for the Amazing Agriculture Adventure, a daylong workshop usually set to welcome Grade 4 and 5 students later in the year. Both Winnipeg and Brandon events have been cancelled.

“With the current restrictions, we felt it was likely not prudent to be asking teachers and volunteers to be registering for something that currently, we could not foresee happening,” Clayton said, noting that registration typically happens in May. “There might be in-person programming that is able to happen in the fall, which would be great, but it takes months for us to organize a big in-person event like AAA.”

AITC is currently developing a pilot project to bring the Amazing Agriculture Adventure virtual. That pilot will get a beta test in 2021, according to Clayton.

The initial pilot will be limited, she noted, and will include only a small group of teachers who have previously attended the Amazing Agriculture Adventure.

CALM

Canadian Agricultural Literacy Month (CALM) 2021 will also undergo a shift this month.

Elementary students will not get the usual visits from local farmers or members of the agriculture industry, due to COVID-19, AITC-M has said. Instead, classroom kits based around the CALM 2021 theme, Healthy Food from Healthy Farms, have been distributed to participating teachers.

Part of that package includes a video produced by AITC-M, teacher guide, activity sheets and books highlighting agriculture and nutrition.

“We went and visited three farms and three processors in the province that traced a snack — so cheese and crackers and carrot sticks — and traced that snack through the farm through the processor for the kids to understand what it takes to make their snack,” Clayton said.

Video featured Ellis Seeds, Rosser Holsteins, Connery’s Riverdale Farm, Cigi, Saputo and Peak of the Market.

Participation numbers have also grown, despite the challenges with COVID-19, Clayton noted. A total 510 classrooms and 9,200 students will take part in CALM this year, AITC-M reports, up from 8,300 last year.

“I think the message is that we’re busier than ever,” Clayton said. “We have more demand than ever for what we’re doing.”

Downloadable teacher resources are currently available on the AITC-M website.

About the author

Reporter

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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