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Agriculture literacy Ag in the Classroom works to create agriculture literate consumers

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

Published on Jan. 18, 2020

With a goal of creating agriculturally literate consumers, South Dakota Agriculture in the Classroom (SDAITC) works to get agriculture curriculum into schools throughout South Dakota. 

            According to SDAITC, the goal of SDAITC is to inspire students to become agriculturally literate consumers and leaders as adults. SDAITC education is guided by six values – to follow STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math) principles, fulfill South Dakota’s education standards, enhance agriculture literacy, honor South Dakota production agriculture and agribusiness, promote careers in South Dakota agriculture industry and empower students to become agriculturally literate consumers and leaders. 

Teaching gardens 

            SDAITC’s Cindy Heidelberger-Larson explains SDAITC got its start about nine years ago when they began incorporating teaching gardens in elementary schools so students could apply concepts of STEAM to agriculture. 

            “We were able to use the teaching gardens as a living laboratory to teach concepts of STEAM,” says Heidelberger-Larson. “We started out with a single garden and had a variety of different themes. From there, other schools invited us to come and plant gardens and teach students about agriculture.” 

            Heidelberger-Larson explains each garden has a leadership team local to the area. She noted the first leadership team was agency-driven, but the organization decided to take a more organic approach with local leaders. 

            “Leadership needed to be organic to the specific neighborhood,” says Heidelberger-Larson. “They are the curators of genius.” 

            Students engage in activities such as measuring plants, looking at life cycles and discussing the weather and soil temperature typical to South Dakota and the Midwest. 

            “We toyed around with some agriculture themes because it is the number one industry in South Dakota,” says Heidelberger-Larson. “We were hearing students didn’t understand where their food was coming from. So, we tried to make them understand the cycle of foods such as a burger and where each ingredient came from.” 

            She continues, “We taught students how to link their burger directly to the soil.”

            Heidelberger-Larson also notes they try to link obesity and nutrition to education to encourage students to eat more fruits and vegetables.

            “When students are engaged with the knowledge of where their food comes from, they are more likely to make healthier choices,” says Heidelberger-Larson. 

            Heidelberger-Larson notes SDAITC has also given students the opportunity to further broaden their agriculture knowledge over the summers. 

            “We hosted a nine-hour camp where over 900 students were able to tour a farm to learn how the agriculture industry effects them on a daily basis,” says Heidelberger-Larson. “We want to create agriculturally literate consumers above all else.”

South Dakota Road Trip

            SDAITC’s Marsha Kucker notes SDAITC also began a web-based program that is a virtual tour of South Dakota, allowing students to visit 22 different towns and learn about the history and agriculture of those towns. 

            According to SDAITC, “The Exploring Agriculture – A Road Trip Through South Dakota program is a fun and educational way for fourth grade students to learn about South Dakota history and South Dakota agriculture. Students take a virtual tour of the state, visiting 22 towns each year.” 

            SDAITC continues, “State and local history and the basics of agriculture are covered through lessons, games and hands on activities. All content is based on South Dakota education standards as well as the National Agriculture Literacy Outcomes.” 

            The program is offered free of charge through partnerships with state and local organizations.

            “The Exploring Agriculture Road Trip incorporates a creative approach to learning about the agricultural foundation and history of our state,” says SDAITC. “Agriculture and history activities are linked to the town’s name or history. For example, in Lemmon, students learn about beef cattle and cattle brands. In Mitchell, students learn about corns, grains and the Corn Palace.”

            Kucker notes they chose to focus the efforts of South Dakota Road Trip on fourth graders in order to build a foundation of agriculture literacy basics. 

            “There is an intellectual shift in fourth grade. Students are able to grapple with harder concepts and think beyond their own selves to see things on a more global scale,” Kucker explains. 

            “We wanted to get away from the cute, pastoral view of what people believe farms are like,” says Heidelberger-Larson. “Through the South Dakota Road Trip program, there are a lot of ways students can begin to understand agriculture and their place in this realm.”

            SDAITC’s Tim Olsen notes the overarching goal is to be able to say every student in South Dakota has been exposed to SDAITC.  

            Visit for more information.

Callie Hanson is the managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to

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