Adopt a Farmer, the Oregon Aglink program that just concluded its ninth year, is all about bringing middle school students onto a farm to interact with farmers.
With COVID-19 making that impossible, the program found another way to get in its signature farm visits. It went digital.
“To be on a farm can be really transformative,” said Mallory Phelan, executive director of Oregon Aglink. “But obviously we are operating in a different world right now, so we asked teachers if they would be interested in any videos from farmers, and we had a great response.
“A lot of them mentioned it would bring a sense of normalcy to the situation and they were excited about that,” Phelan said.
In all, about two-dozen Oregon farmers provided Oregon Aglink videos showing them at work on their farm, helping bring a slice of rural Oregon to participating middle schools.
“The farmers were great,” Phelan said. “Most of them don’t blog a lot or shoot a lot of video, but we didn’t have anyone hesitate when we asked if they would be willing to do so. And to me, the fact that the videos weren’t professional videos made the farmers come off as very authentic.”
Phelan posted the videos on Facebook, putting them out at a rate of two or so a week, and teachers used the videos as part of their virtual teaching or as an extracurricular activity where students could view them on their own time. In several cases, participating farmers had previously conducted their classroom visit.
In normal years, Adopt a Farmer includes a classroom visit by participating farmers and an on-farm field trip for the students. Phelan noted 20,000 students have now participated in the program.
In one case, a farmer joined a virtual classroom for a live taping that included fielding questions from students. “I was really impressed with the students’ engagement and their interest in talking with someone through a live stream,” Phelan said.
Participating farms ranged from dairies, to hazelnut growers, to grass seed operations to a transplant operation. The farmers typically “just did the selfie thing,” Phelan said. “They were just holding the camera out in front of them and flipping it around to show things.”
Several farmers took advantage of the opportunity to show and explain spraying activities.
“Whenever we have kids out to a farm, we are never going to show them spraying,” Phelan said. “So, it was a good opportunity for farmers to explain some things they normally aren’t able to share.”
Despite the success of the remote presentations, there are no plans to go digital with the program’s on-farm visits on a permanent basis.
“Adopt a Farmer was created around this idea of visiting a farm, and we still believe that it is very important to be on a farm and interact with farmers,” Phelan said.
Still, given that both in-class presentations and field trips may be prohibited at least for part of next school year, going digital may be the program’s best option.
“I could not have imagined our tenth school year celebration would look like this,” Phelan said.