Making the Connection: Enhancing Agricultural Understanding in an Urbanizing Area

Final Report for CS03-011

Project Type: Sustainable Community Innovation
Funds awarded in 2003: $7,200.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2003
Region: Southern
State: Virginia
Principal Investigator:
Suzanne Heflin
Prince William County Farm Tour
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Project Information

Abstract:

Producing and distributing a 4th grade activity book to accompany the Prince William County Farm Tour proved to positively impact the educational efforts of the farm tour, but had little impact on event attendance. The addition of offering teacher materials in advance of receiving the books gave teachers an opportunity to further develop subject matter and incorporate the book into the classroom. Employing a system for obtaining teacher feedback will ensure that teacher materials will better reflect their needs in the future.

Introduction

For three years the Prince William County Farm Tour has offered citizens of this urbanizing area an opportunity to experience the county’s vibrant agricultural lifestyle. Seven farms opened their gates to the public offering fun and educational demonstrations, displays and activities. Area businesses and the Prince William County Convention and Visitors Bureau support the effort with donations and in-kind services. Farm families, community organizations and farm tour organizers volunteer hundreds of hours to the event.
The event continues to grow as a popular family event. Participation has increased each year to approximately 6000 visitors. Participant feedback continues to be extremely positive, especially regarding one-on-one interaction with the farmers themselves.
This is the second year that project coordinators have produced and distributed an activity/coloring book to the county’s fourth graders to accompany the farm tour. In 2003, teacher materials were also developed and distributed to address challenges of less than ideal book distribution timing (first week of school year), directing teachers to sources for more in-depth information and increasing book utilization in the classroom. These teacher materials were anticipated to improve the overall effectiveness of the activity book.

Project Objectives:

The goals of the 2003 Farm Tour are:
Educational components of the farm tour will be enriched to reach beyond the event itself.
The farm tour activity book will be incorporated in 75% of PWC fourth grade classrooms.
Farm tour organizers plan to support these goals with the following objectives:
Work with farms on the tour to enhance educational activities on the tour.
Promote participation in the farm tour through the County’s public and private schools.
Reinforce the farm tour themes and messages with children and their families independent of participation in the farm tour with production of the Prince William County Farm Tour Activity Book to be distributed to all fourth graders in Prince William County public schools and private schools (by request).
Increase teacher acceptance and utilization of the activity book with production of valuable teacher materials.

Research

Materials and methods:

The project coordinator and contracting education specialist/author assessed teacher’s needs to determine the content of teacher materials. The resulting packet included general farm tour information including event purpose, schedule and contacts, announcement of the release of the activity book, methods to incorporate the book into the classroom and an index of helpful websites featuring agricultural and local information. The packet of information was distributed to all 4rth grade science teachers via email and by hard copy distribution in May of 2003.
The project coordinator used the template of the 2002 Prince William County Farm Tour Coloring/Activity Book to update and reprint reflecting the 2003 tour, themes and messages. The book highlighted agriculture and the environment, fresh, wholesome local farm products and the importance of agriculture to the County’s economy and way of life. Age appropriate word puzzles, matching and other activities provided for active learning correlated with statewide Standards of Learning. Book specifications are: 6500 copies, 16-page, 11” x 17” folded to 8½” x 11”, staple seamed, double-sided one-color print, green 67# stock cover and white 60# interior pages. The book was distributed via school currier system in September of 2003 to 48 elementary schools.
Books were also distributed during the farm tour event and copies were available for download at http://www.pwcfarmtour.com/activity.html .

Research results and discussion:

The activity book was evaluated via a written survey of participants taken at the event. Compared to survey results of the previous year it is apparent that the activity book is gaining broader acceptance as only 53% did not respond to activity book questions due to not having received one, versus 80% in year 1.
As with year 1, the activity book continued to have little affect on event attendance. Of those responding to the question, 63% said the activity book did not influence their decision to attend the farm tour.
However, the activity book proved to exceed expectations in reaching educational goals once again. Of those responding, 84% said the activity book enhanced their farm tour experience. Comments included “Very nice and informative,” “Very helpful,” and “Great educational opportunity about Soil Conservation.”
Actual project costs were $5280.16 or $.81 per book (including cost of teacher materials.)
Per book costs were down from $1.07 per book in the first year.
The effectiveness of the teacher materials was not definitively assessed as concrete usage data was unobtainable. Informal discussion with the Science Curriculum Coordinator confirmed that the books were well received by teachers and the teacher materials helped them prepare to use the books in the classroom.

Participation Summary

Educational & Outreach Activities

Participation Summary

Education/outreach description:

Publications:
Prince William County Farm Tour Teacher Materials
Prince William County Farm Tour Activity Book
Prince William County Farm Tour Flier
Survey Results Report
Outreach:
The activity book was available online for download along with project overview information at http://www.pwcfarmtour.com/activity.html .
USDA-SARE was listed as farm tour sponsor on the farm tour website, fliers, posters, event signs and advertisements
A grant overview article was sent to local media the Bull Run Observer and Old Bridge Observer.

Project Outcomes

Project outcomes:

In the second year of production of the Prince William County Farm Tour Activity Book, the book was more efficiently produced and distribution was significantly streamlined.

Recommendations:

Future Recommendations

Obtaining feedback from the school system as to the extent to which the books are being distributed and used continues to be a challenge. It is not uncommon for curriculum providers to require that teachers attend training sessions to receive the materials. It is recommended that an agreement be reached that teachers will return a brief evaluative survey in order to receive the farm tour activity books in the future. Obtaining feedback from the teachers is vital in improving the teacher materials and activity book in years to come.

Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.