COVID-19 hasn’t been able to hinder Oregon Ag in the Classroom’s mission to help students grow their knowledge of agriculture.
“There are several different ways we do that, and we have been able to convert them all to virtual, so it’s been a really exciting year for us,” said Jessica Jansen, executive director of the Oregon Agriculture in the Classroom Foundation. “It actually opened up some opportunities we wouldn’t have otherwise.”
For instance, during a recent virtual “field trip” to TMK Creamery dozens of students would never have been able to crowd into the cheese-making area, but a video camera could go places the students couldn’t.
“They see a little more than they probably would be able to see, so there are silver linings to this style,” Jansen said.
The number of students who can go on virtual “field trips” is almost unlimited.
“The Zoom call where we visited an Oregon Christmas tree farm and then a citrus orchard in Arizona had over 3,000 students connected,” she said.
The logistics of going virtual is also easier on the farmers, she said.
“It is also a fairly low commitment when you compare having 1,000 students out to your farm for an all-day event to spending an hour, hour-and-a-half making a video,” Jansen said.
Within the agricultural community there is an eagerness to share with students, Jansen said.
When the spring Literacy Program — volunteers visiting classrooms — was nixed, Ag in the Classroom didn’t miss a beat, having volunteers meet the students on a virtual platform.
Ag in the Classroom also offers an extensive lending library and a database of lesson plans for teachers.
“We are a nonprofit program existing 100% on donations and grants, and it is because of the generosity of the agricultural community that we’re able to do these things,” she said.
This year they are also offering the Specialty Crop Subscription Program, providing third- to fifth-grade students with monthly boxes featuring a different Oregon crop, such as cranberries during the winter holidays.
“That’s been popular because the teachers don’t have to come up with the supplies on their own and they’re fun, hands-on activities that people are largely missing with virtual education,” Jansen said. “We have a small team and I’m really proud of all that we’ve accomplished.
“We had it planned in a completely different way so it’s taken a lot of flexibility to pivot everything to a digital format that teachers can really use,” Jansen said. “We’ve been really intentional about that every time we developed a lesson.
“That’s what is most helpful to them as they navigate this time.”
Ag show visitors can talk with representatives of Oregon Ag in the Classroom, who will be happy to discuss the programs and how to get involved.