Jessica Jansen fell in love with agriculture during her high school FFA years. Its broad range of disciplines led her to earn degrees in agricultural sciences and communications at Oregon State University.
Now Jansen is executive director of Oregon Agriculture in the Classroom, providing free curriculum, a lending library and training to teachers from kindergarten through high school. The program uses agriculture to teach science, math, history and nutrition across existing curriculum in an especially relevant way.
“Ag is very relatable,” Jansen said. “It’s easy to understand diameter and circumference when you’re looking at a pumpkin or understand why math is important when you’re doing a lesson about variable rate fertilizer application.”
In addition to educating kids and families on the subject, at the show Jansen hopes to enlist more members of the ag community to share their knowledge with school-age kids.
“We provide them an area for their exhibit so they can have a presence at the show, like what we do with the FFA,” Northwest Ag Show Manager Amy Patrick said. “We include them in advertising and other promotions and help sponsor several of their events.”
A good way to start is to volunteer for AITC’s spring literacy project. Volunteers read to students, share their connection to agriculture and lead an activity. This year’s program has a dairy slant, inspired by this year’s selected book, “Allison Investigates: Does Chocolate Milk Come from Brown Cows?” by Colette Nicoletta.
With about 800 volunteers, Ag in the Classroom works with 2,000 teachers in all 36 Oregon counties and last year reached over 166,000 students.
“We’re trying to bridge that divide of people that aren’t growing up around ag anymore,” Jansen said. “The average student today is at least three generations removed from production agriculture.”
The private nonprofit is funded entirely by donations and grants.
It is housed in the College of Agricultural Sciences at Oregon State University, which comes with the benefit of dedicated volunteers from the college’s professional agriculture sorority, Sigma Alpha. Jansen said they worked more than 400 hours in the AITC office last year.
Ag in the Classroom also works closely with the FFA; Jansen said kids especially connect with the young people — something that may lead to an ag career down the line.
“We want to get people excited about the sciences, agriculture and its diversity and how many different jobs there are — it’s not just farmers and ranchers,” she said. “…Ag lending, the sciences, food development and processing.…
“In Oregon, 1 in 8 jobs is related to agriculture,” Jansen said. “After technology, agriculture is Oregon’s second-largest economic driver.”
Oregon Ag in the Classroom will have a booth at this year’s Northwest Ag Show offering information about the foundation and the many things it does.