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Your Student’s School Supply List Starts on the Farm

You don’t have to live in a rural area to appreciate how agriculture affects you every day — from a pencil in your hand to the paper in your printer. 

In Maryland, only a third of our counties have 50% or more rural land. This means that there are a lot of students who aren’t exposed to farmlands on a regular basis, if at all. As school districts across the state figure out how to open this year, it’s a great opportunity to educate your student at home about what comes from agriculture beyond the dinner table.

“Don’t forget about agriculture as kids are heading back to school,” says Shannon Brown, Elementary Education Director for the Maryland Agriculture Education Foundation (MAEF), which promotes the importance of agriculture in our daily lives.

Many of the common school supplies that your student uses have agricultural beginnings. One of our most widely used writing instruments, pencils are manufactured by lumber. Loose-leaf paper, books, paper-based colored folders and notebooks also stem from wood. Some ink used to print textbooks and non-toxic crayons are made from soybeans. Did you know that a field of soybeans the size of a football field (1 acre) can produce over 80,000 soy crayons? 

“Ag is a fantastic context for teaching every subject from science and math to history,” notes Shannon. Here’s a fun activity that Shannon says will engage your younger students.

For this experiment, you’ll need crayons that are both soy-based (i.e., Prang) and petroleum-based (most major brands). Have your student experiment to see if they can tell the difference between the two. Start coloring. Which one is less flaky? Which one has a more brilliant color? Which one has the most coverage on the page? Use a graphic organizer to help them record their thoughts. In the end, they’ll be surprised to discover the differences.

Other agricultural products are popping up in unexpected ways, too. Grains, like corn and wheat, are now being used to make sustainable school supplies and more. For instance, you can find disposable bags, cups and silverware, as well as pens and scissors with handles made from corn plastic, a “bioplastic” with the ability to biodegrade. Wheat paper, made from 80% wheat straw, is used to make composition notebooks and copy paper. With almost 12 million bushels of wheat and over 72 million bushels of corn being grown in Maryland, our state has a supply that could go toward making these green products.

Have a musician in the house? The bows for playing the violin are made with hair from a horse’s tail. Is football your student’s game? That “pigskin” football is actually cow leather. The grass soccer field may also have started on a Maryland turf farm. Go on a scavenger hunt at your house for items with this “Can You Find Me” lesson.

Encourage your student to learn more about agriculture. Go online and visit National Agriculture in the Classroom and MAEF, which feature a host of agricultural topics, virtual farm tours, games and more to get students engaged. And, to learn about real Maryland farm families, view My Maryland Farmer’s social media and blogs to get to know these hardworking families.

Now it’s time to get out from behind the screen and take a family field trip. This could be a driving tour to discover Maryland farms that sell ice cream. Or stop by a local farmers market and let your student see the plethora of fresh produce, meats and cheeses that are produced locally. Let them pick some out for tonight’s dinner. While on your field trip, look to discover a personal connection that your student has and turn it into a school project. “You can use agriculture in real-life situations,” Shannon adds. “Print out a simple Maryland county map online and have your child keep track of the different produce they find along their travels. Which crops or animals did you find in the counties you visited?”

By trying these fun ag-oriented activities, your student will know more about how Maryland’s agriculture touches their schools and lives in person, every day.

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