Delaware Program Enhances Specialty Crop Education for Youth

Jun 21, 2023

By Jean-Paul MacDonald

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In a collaborative effort between the Delaware Farm Bureau and the Delaware Department of Agriculture, a program called "Read It and Eat: Teaching Children about Specialty Crops through Books in School Libraries" was launched. This three-year initiative, funded by a USDA Specialty Crop Block Grant, aimed to educate children about the diverse range of specialty crops grown in Delaware.

The core component of the program involved the placement of book barns in over 100 public elementary schools throughout the state. Each book barn contained a collection of at least 12 informative agricultural books related to the specialty crops grown in the region.

By providing access to these resources, the campaign sought to increase agricultural awareness among youth and address important questions about food production, farmers, and the origins of food. It also aimed to promote healthier eating habits and boost children's confidence in trying new foods.

To adapt to the challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic, the campaign resources were transformed into digital formats and shared with teachers. Additionally, the program created videos featuring farmers reading specialty crop books in their fields, offering students an engaging virtual experience.

Despite the difficulties caused by the pandemic, the program persevered. Delaware Farm Bureau volunteers stepped in to complete the construction of the book barns after the initial collaboration with a local FFA chapter was disrupted due to the pandemic.

A key aspect of the initiative was the inclusion of farmer visits to schools when a new book was added to the collection. During these visits, farmers read the book to the students and delivered presentations about specialty crops. Following each visit, participants were asked to complete surveys to gauge their newfound knowledge. Impressively, over 1,050 students reported learning something new about specialty crops, and 1,109 students expressed their willingness to try unfamiliar specialty crops.

The program aspired to not only impact students but also engage parents in supporting their children's curiosity and exploration of new foods. Recognizing its innovative approach, the program received the prestigious 2023 New Horizon Award from the American Farm Bureau Federation, which celebrates the most inventive new programs introduced by state Farm Bureaus.

For those interested in implementing similar initiatives, the Delaware Farm Bureau recommends assessing the need and interest among local elementary schools and exploring available agricultural publications, including those suggested by the American Farm Bureau Federation.

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