Annual Ag Literacy Week connects Pennsylvania farmers and children

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a woman reads a book to a group of people with a daughter on her lap
Amanda McDowell reads the book "My Family's Soybean Farm" to children at Beaver Area Memorial Library March 16 as part of Ag Literacy Week. McDowell is a farmer in Lawrence County, Pennsylvania. (Rachel Wagoner photo)

BEAVER, Pa. — Amanda McDowell sat in front of a room of toddlers and their parents at the Beaver Area Memorial Library. For some, it might have been their first time meeting a real-life farmer.

“Sometimes, Alexander and his daddy have to check on their fields, and it’s called scouting,” McDowell said, reading from the book, My Family’s Soybean Farm, by Iowa farmer Katie Olthoff. 

“My kids like to scout fields because it usually means we’re going to get ice cream when we’re done,” McDowell added, talking about her own experience raising two daughters while running a beef cattle and row crop operation, with her husband and in-laws outside of Mount Jackson, Pennsylvania. 

McDowell joined other agricultural leaders from across the state in reading to classrooms of children March 14-17 as part of Pennsylvania Ag Literacy Week. The sixth annual campaign to connect Pennsylvania farmers with young children is sponsored by Pennsylvania Friends of Agriculture Foundation, Pennsylvania Farm Bureau’s charitable organization.

“Agriculture influences our lives every day. It provides us with the food we eat, the clothes we wear, and many of the products we use each day,” said Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding, in a statement. Redding read a book at Howard Elementary School in Centre County on March 15. “Ag Literacy Week helps students make that connection. It fosters an early appreciation for agriculture and the farmers and food workers who ensure food reaches tables across the commonwealth and the world. It also encourages students to consider opportunities in agriculture, growing the next generation of agriculturalists.”

After reading the book to the children in Beaver, McDowell talked about her farm and answered questions. She passed around roasted soy beans and dried corn cobs to let the children see, feel and smell the crops her family grows and harvests. The children also received soy-based crayons and coloring books to see numerous products made from soybeans. 

“I feel the best way to make sure the next generation has the opportunity to farm is through telling our stories, engaging the public and providing opportunities for people to ask questions,” she told Farm and Dairy.

Craig Conforti, client relations manager with Pennsylvania State University Extension, also answered questions about agriculture in the county and the farm he operates in South Beaver Township with his family. Representatives from the Beaver-Lawrence Farm Bureau read books during storytime at seven public libraries throughout Beaver County in conjunction with Ag Literacy Week. 

“Fewer and fewer families have a direct connection to farming, yet all of us rely on farms daily,” said Pennsylvania Farm Bureau President Rick Ebert, in a statement. “Ag Literacy Week gives students a chance to meet a real farmer in their community and learn about the hard work that goes into producing food for families to eat. The goal is to foster a better understanding of agriculture and the important role it plays in our lives.”

(Reporter Rachel Wagoner can be contacted at 800-837-3419 or rachel@farmanddairy.com.)

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Rachel is Farm and Dairy's editor and a graduate of Clarion University of Pennsylvania. She married a fourth-generation farmer and settled down in her hometown in Beaver County, where she co-manages the family farm raising beef cattle and sheep with her husband and in-laws. Before coming to Farm and Dairy, she worked at several daily and weekly newspapers throughout Western Pennsylvania covering everything from education and community news to police and courts. She can be reached at rachel@farmanddairy.com or 724-201-1544.

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