Bozeman, Montana – In a classroom at the Boys & Girls Club in Bozeman, 16 children age 5 to 12, spent a recent morning planting seeds, grinding wheat and squishing tomatoes. Under the direction of Shannon Arnold’s Montana State University agricultural education students, the children were learning where their food came from. At the end of the program, they walked away with a greater understanding of agriculture, the origins of their food and a pizza lunch.
“At the start of the program, the MSU students asked ‘where does your food come from?’ and the answer they got was, ‘the store’,” says Jeanne Quinn-Bucher, the Boys & Girls Club chief professional officer.
“Our goal was to further educate the community on where their food comes from because the Montana economy is based on agriculture,” Arnold says.
Arnold, faculty in agricultural education at MSU, is teaching her students how to instruct in non-formal settings. That includes any place outside the traditional classroom.
“We are being trained to work in agricultural relations,” says Brooke Johns, a senior from Conrad. “This is the sort of program that we might conduct in our work life.”
The five MSU students planned the program, implemented it and will evaluate it in a reflection paper. The program is aimed at teaching children where their food comes from, what food commodities are and how that relates to the children’s lives.
Each agricultural education student staffed one station. The Boys & Girls Club children rotated through the stations in groups of threes and fours. At the wheat station, Nikki Bailey, a senior from Fort Benton, asked how many loaves of bread the children thought could be made from a bucket of wheat. Then they scooped the wheat into a mill and ground it into flour. Next they added water and made play dough to take home.
At the cheese station, Johns talked about the origin of cheese and gave the children cow masks to color.
The meat station activity started with a discussion of what animal is used to make different animal products such as lipstick, gelatin, burgers and sausage. Erin Gernaat, a senior from Conrad, gave the children little sausages to sample.
Greg Mosness, a senior from Big Timber, helped the children understand where vegetables come from. They planted basil and dill seeds in plastic cups while talking about plant growth.
At the pizza sauce station, the children squeezed tomatoes with their hands until it looked like sauce. Jerrica Lind, a senior from Ulm, led them in a quiz game about uses for tomatoes.
After rotating through all the stations, the group gathered to make mini pizzas for lunch. They then participated in a quiz to test their knowledge of the day’s lesson.
“This is a unique opportunity to work with a group of children that we can’t bring into our classroom at MSU,” Gernaat says.
Real-world teaching opportunities are important for MSU students, both in preparing them for the workforce and to give back to the community, Arnold says.
“This opportunity not only provided experiential learning for the students, but was also a great way to educate the community about agriculture,” Arnold says.
“We are so far removed from where our food comes from, even though this is an agricultural state,” says Quinn-Bucher. “We are really lucky to have these connections with MSU because this makes a big impact on the kids.”