Teachers learn about agriculture, organic gardening at FIU

By Eaguila

As a middle school teacher, Anne Daane helps her students navigate the perilous waters of adolescence. She gets their angst and understands that it comes with the territory. Daane encountered a new fear last year among some of her students, however, that rocked her world.

“I took students outside, and I had students who refused to step off the sidewalk into the grass,” said Daane of her John F. Kennedy Middle School students. “It was a startling experience for me.”

This shocking revelation prompted Daane to join 22 other public, private and charter school teachers at the July Agroecology Workshop for High School Teachers offered by professors and students in FIU’s Agroecology Program. The five-day program at Modesto A. Maidique Campus included in-house guest lectures and trips to a United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) research center, local farms and community food gardens, including a student-led tour around the FIU organic garden.

“The goal is to help school teachers to incorporate food, agriculture and natural resources issues into their school curriculum in an effort to bring agriscience into classrooms and strengthen the pipeline between high schools and colleges,” explained Mahadev Bhat, co-director of the Agroecology Program and associate professor of Environmental Studies.

The biennial workshop is offered to teachers of all grade levels and is supported by the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture Hispanic-Serving Institutions Higher Education Grants Program and one of the seven USDA grants, totaling $1.3 million that the Agroecology Program has received in the past six years.

This is the third summer since 2006 that the workshop has been offered. Its popularity has grown from 13 in 2006 to 23 participants in 2010, coinciding with the growth of the Agroecology Program from 5 or 6 in 2005 to at least 100 in 2010.

“Teachers who attended our workshop in the past have helped us recruit some of the finest high school graduates who are in our Agroecology Program now,” said Krish Jayachandran, co-director of the Agroecology Program and associate professor of Environmental Studies.

Touring the organic garden was a big hit among the participants, who listened intently as FIU students explained the workings behind initiatives including a water-collection system, above-ground gardens, a pond, a meditation garden and production agriculture in the greenhouse. The teachers were looking forward to gaining new ideas that they can bring back to their home schools in the fall.

Horace Mann Middle School teacher Kester Peters was intrigued by the use of concrete blocks to build raised garden beds and hoped to take this back to his school garden club where students had used wood as their primary building material. Daane was intrigued by the garden’s water collection system and was already making plans to design and build one at her school. She also was thinking about creating an herb garden without soil.

Explained Daane, “My hope is to touch in some way the students’ thought process and add new ideas to the way that they think about the earth and the natural environment.”

– Emily Cochrane