Republican Rep. Robert Dickey of Musella presents the elementary agriculture education bill during the House of Representatives floor session, in this screenshot from March 1, 2022. (Georgia General Assembly)

Starting in the fall of 2022, Georgia elementary students could start taking agriculture education classes and engage with local farms as part of a now-permanent program.

Georgia middle and high school students can already take agricultural education classes. A new law signed by Gov. Brian Kemp this spring extends that opportunity to younger students by making an existing pilot elementary agricultural education program permanent. However, the law does not provide new state funding for elementary agriculture education.

The success of that elementary pilot program – which grew to include 27 elementary schools statewide – demonstrates the statewide interest in expanding agricultural education to elementary students.

“Originally, we were worried there wouldn’t be enough schools that wanted to participate,” said Dalton Green, a relationship manager for AgAmerica Lending from LaFayette, Georgia. “But then after it started, there were schools all over that wanted to find out how they could be a part of the pilot.”

The pilot program grew out of a supervised agricultural experience summer camp at North Summerville Elementary School Green and his wife, Chattooga County middle school teacher Emily Green, established while still in high school. Dalton and Emily Green worked with former Republican Rep. John Wilkinson of Toccoa and Republican Sen. Jeff Mullis of Chickamauga to write the law that introduced the original pilot program.

As early as this fall, any board of education in the state can opt into the curriculum for their elementary schools, offering classes in the subject. School boards that opt-in would have to hire an agriculture education teacher, follow standards established by the Georgia Department of Education and find the money to pay for the program.

The federal funding that covers part of the cost of career, technical and agricultural education in middle and high schools can not be used for elementary programs, Pollard said 

Under the new agriculture education program, elementary students could start learning about agriculture in the classroom and apply those lessons to hands-on experiences like school gardens. They could also visit local farms, take up home farming projects and participate in events held by the Georgia chapter of the National FFA Organization.

At Westside Elementary School in Valdosta, part of the pilot program, the Elementary Agriculture Awareness program had high school students teach students lessons on a five-day schedule.

The Georgia Vocational Agriculture Teachers Association is working to include more training for elementary-level agriculture education teachers, including panels specific to elementary education at its future conventions, said the group’s president, Marcus Pollard. 

“It’s a little bit different,” Pollard said. “This is new territory, trying to figure out how to best serve elementary school teachers because their needs are going to be different than middle and high school teachers.”

Expansions of agriculture education like this program align with state efforts to help consumers understand where their food comes from so they can make healthier choices.

“A lot of people just don’t understand where their food comes from,” Pollard said. “It’s not hard to find an elementary school kid that thinks chocolate milk comes from a brown cow. Sure, that’s just a kid being a kid but it’s an opportunity to teach that kid about agriculture.”

For more from Fresh Take Georgia and the latest updates, follow us on Facebook and Twitter.