On September 13, I traveled to Bloomington to the Illinois Farm Bureau to meet with other new county ag literacy coordinators from throughout the state.
The new coordinators hold the same job title as me, but our jobs couldn’t be more different.
One coordinator oversees ag literacy programming for three counties, and two oversee programs for two counties. Only one other coordinator holds the position as a full-time job, the others work part-time. Most of the coordinators have ag and education backgrounds; they come from farming families and have previously worked as teachers.
Their approach to agricultural literacy is also different: most of the communities they serve live rurally, and if students do not live on a farm, they are familiar with farming practices and agriculture.
During the 2021-2022 school year, Cook County’s Ag in the Classroom program reached 811 classrooms in 334 schools and 17,240 students. Many of the coordinators’ towns don’t even have 17,000 residents. One coordinator mentioned only having four schools in their entire county.
Attending the meeting made me realize how important agricultural education in Cook County is. Most of Cook County’s young students have never visited a farm or raised chickens or helped harvest acres of crops, all activities in other counties routinely have the access and the ability to pursue.
A running joke in the ag literacy world is that our job is to teach students that chocolate milk doesn’t come from brown cows. But teaching students about cows when they have never seen one in person – or may never see one – is entirely different from teaching students from dairy farming communities.
I am grateful for the opportunity to have attended the new coordinator meeting, where I was able to meet the other new coordinators, share our contact information, and know that we can rely upon each other as resources and references.
The meeting made me realize that it’s not one county seeking to out-educate another. It’s not a competition over the number of students reached or programs offered. It’s not a comparison between rural or urban. It’s everyone in the 90 out of 102 Illinois counties that have farm bureaus working together for one common mission and one collaborative goal: bring agricultural education to the students, families, and communities of Illinois – and to teach them that chocolate milk doesn’t come from brown cows.