Nebraska fourth-graders are learning about the vital role of agriculture in the state when they visit the State Capitol Building during the 2011-12 school year, thanks to a program jointly sponsored by the Nebraska Soybean Board, the Nebraska Pork Producers Association and the Nebraska Corn Board.
The Nebraska AG Sack Lunch Program is designed to teach Nebraska fourth-graders and their families about the importance of agriculture in the state, says Don Hutchens, executive director of the Nebraska Corn Board.
A total of about 5,000 lunches were budgeted for the 2011-2012 school year and 90 classes are expected to enjoy the presentations when the current school year ends in May. The program takes advantage of the fact that over 20,000 fourth-graders visit the State Capitol Building in Lincoln each year as part of their curriculum.
Sponsored events include a sack lunch donated by the three sponsoring associations. The lunches feature nutritious foods produced in Nebraska, a 20-minute presentation by "Ag Ambassadors" on the vital role agriculture plays in the state's economy, and a fact-filled card game designed for students to take home, which helps carry the ag-centered message to their families.
The "Ag Ambassadors" are University of Nebraska-Lincoln students trained to make these presentations. Presentations tell students that one in three jobs in Nebraska have some connection to agriculture, including a variety of support industries such as equipment manufacturing and sales, building construction, transportation, and food retailers.
Hutchens says, "We hope this Sack Lunch Program can be a conduit to education, understanding and appreciation. What better way to do it than with a sack lunch and a little education."
Comments from participating teachers and students suggest the program is hitting its mark. Jane Grunvaldson, fourth-grade teacher at Thomas Elementary School in Gretna, brought her students to Lincoln on April 17. She said her students learned a lot about Nebraska farming on their visit. "I grew up on a hog farm and know the value of crops and ag animals," she says. "When I saw the promotion in a Nebraska State Education Association magazine last year, I thought it would be a good opportunity for our students, so I signed them up."
This is the second year she has brought her class to the event. About 100 Gretna students participated in each of the two years.
"The UNL students who are the Ag Ambassadors do a great job engaging the students and my class learned a lot."
The Ag Ambassadors presenting to Gundvalson's class on April 17 were Lacy Schardt, of Carleton, Amanda Bergstrom, Wilcox, and Jordan Stromberger, Imperial. "The students were especially interested in the backgrounds of the presenters, all who grew up on farms that had livestock and crops."
Prior to the event, Gundvalson adds, her students had more questions about what their lunches would be than anything else. After the presentation, they were "full of questions about who in our area might be providing meat for us to eat."
"Now they have a firmer grasp that the foods we eat are directly coming from the farmers and ranchers in Nebraska. We help to feed the world," Gundvaldson says.
A primary objective of the Ag Sack Lunch Program is to acquaint students from urban areas about how the agriculture industry impacts their lives on a daily basis.
"The program was highly successful during the 2010-11 school year," says Victor Bohuslavsky, executive director of the Nebraska Soybean Board. "Interest exceeded our projections, so we increased the number of lunches we could provide."
This year's Ag Sack Lunch Program schedule concludes in May, with 34 schools and more than 1,800 students scheduled to participate during the final month.