Ag in the Classroom Manitoba presents the award to teachers who promote ag studies
By Diego Flammini
A fifth-grade teacher from Portage la Prairie, Man. is this year’s recipient of the Teacher Driver Award from Agriculture in the Classroom (AITC) Manitoba.
Stewart Akerley, who teaches at La Verendrye School, didn’t even know he was nominated for the award. He learned that a producer he’s become friends with had secretly submitted his name.
“I found out it was a local farmer by the name of Sandi Knight,” he told Farms.com. “(She) and her husband visited my classroom six years ago for Agriculture Literacy Month and, ever since then, we’ve kept in contact and she’s been a big cheerleader for my cause. It feels good to be recognized for the special things I’m doing with my students and I’m proud to share with everyone the things my students are learning and doing.”
Knight nominated Akerley, in part, because of the environment he creates in his classroom.
“From the moment you walk into Stewart Akerley’s classroom, his unbridled energy, passion and enthusiasm for teaching is evident,” Knight wrote on the nomination form. “His passion is contagious, and his students are thoroughly engaged in learning how the garden grows.”
One way the teacher promotes agriculture in his classroom is through AITC’s Little Green Thumbs program that provides teachers with indoor gardening supplies including planter boxes, soil, seeds and a grow light.
The students are given the responsibility of tending to the indoor garden from seed to harvest.
“It causes many of them to mature in a way that only having responsibility for a living thing can give to you,” he said. “Last year, my students grew over 600 cherry tomatoes, 10 large cucumbers and a few hundred beans.”
In addition to the indoor garden, Akerley’s students participate in ag fairs, Ag Literacy Month and receive classroom visits from farmers. He even throws “Saladbrations” where students make and eat salads using the crops they grew.
Teaching students about agriculture now can help them in the future.
These young people will become shoppers and consumers. The indoor garden and other ag-specific lessons will help them understand how food is produced, Akerley said.
“I often observe there is a disconnect with children in regard to where food actually comes from and where they think it comes from,” he said. “When I ask them where pizza comes from they usually say from the box or from the store.
“They are shocked when I tell them it comes from farms and explain that cheese comes from cows, ham and pepperoni from pigs, sauce from tomatoes and crust from wheat fields. I want them to know how important farmers are to them and that growing food is hard work.”