VOL. 130 | NO. 99 | Thursday, May 21, 2015
The first elementary school students came to Agricenter International for some hands-on education more than a decade ago. About 80 students went on a literal field trip, walking through the cotton, soybean and cornfields.
Tim Roberts, Agricenter International’s director of education, says programs have been designed to align with science curriculums. Classroom experiences and programming can be tailored to fit lesson plans.
(Daily News/Andrew J. Breig)
“They were in the field and we were pulling up the plants,” said Tim Roberts, Agricenter International’s director of education and also a University of Tennessee extension agent.
It was a good first day – until the rain started. Then it became a better day. The students were so interested that the field trip shifted inside – to the buses that had brought them there.
That was the beginning.
“We approached both (the Memphis City and Shelby County) school systems,” Roberts recalled. “We wanted buy-in from both systems. It just kind of grew from there.”
While the local public school systems merged, Agricenter International’s education outreach expanded to include other public schools in West Tennessee, Arkansas and Mississippi as well as private schools and homeschool groups. More than 4,000 students attend one or more of the educational programs each year.
Patrice Ingram, who teaches third grade at Atoka Elementary, has been bringing classes to the Agricenter’s Discover the Forest program.
“They go on a nature walk and they’re taught how to identify how old a tree is and what a plant needs to survive,” she said. “They really like it.”
The Agricenter’s educational programs need nourishment to survive and thrive, too. To that end, the first Feast on the Farm benefit, to be held June 5, will benefit those programs.
Feast on the Farm will feature locally raised foods that will be prepared by Memphis-area chefs including: Mac Edwards (the Farmer), Kelly English (Restaurant Iris and The Second Line), Erling Jensen (Erling Jensen), Ryan Trimm (Sweet Grass), Jeff Dunham (The Grove Grill), Simpson Hughes (The Butcher Shop), and several others.
“The farm is at the heart of our heritage and our beginnings” said Agricenter president John Charles Wilson. “Agricenter’s mission embraces supporting the farmer in their work, especially now when many people are trying to do more with less. It’s important to shape tomorrow’s farmers, scientists and engineers through programs like those offered at the Agricenter.”
“It’s important to shape tomorrow’s farmers, scientists and engineers through programs like those offered at the Agricenter.”
–John Charles Wilson
While there is much emphasis placed on students – programs have been designed to align with science curriculums and classroom experiences and programming can be tailored to fit a teacher’s lesson plan – on a broader scale Agricenter’s mission is to educate the general public. Each month, solar tours are offered and those are popular with adults, Roberts said.
Students will help develop a renewable energy park on-site that will have solar, wind, water and bio renewable energy components to it. Roberts said they plan to launch the park next fall.
But some of the youngest students, pre-K through second grade, sometimes need more basic education at the start. Roberts said the young ones honestly have believed that milk originated at Kroger and not with a cow.
“We can’t start too young teaching them,” he said.
There also are program offerings in the summer. Plant Camp, despite a name that sounds like it might repel interest, has proven popular. It will be held from June 15-19 this year, for 8-12 year-olds, and the cost is $55.
Planting and harvesting are part of the experience and Roberts recalled the boy who a day after taking home potatoes, green beans, onions and cucumbers reported that, “I fed my whole family! My mom made a stew.”
That’s the kind of real-world application that reminds kids and their parents that every good meal starts on a farm.
Feast on the Farm will take place at Agricenter’s Show Place Arena, 105 S. Germantown Parkway in Cordova. The program will run from 7 to 11 p.m. Tickets are $100 per guest and sponsored tables are available for $1,500 for parties of 10.
Helena Chemical, Trustmark Bank and Rose Construction are sponsoring the event. For more information, go to www.FeastontheFarmMemphis.com. For more information about Agricenter International’s educational programs, go to www.agricenter.org.