Learning About Equity & Inclusion in the Food System Through a Storytelling Curriculum and Training for 4H Agents & Middle School Agriculture Teachers

Progress report for SPDP21-02

Project Type: Professional Development Program
Funds awarded in 2021: $80,000.00
Projected End Date: 06/30/2024
Grant Recipients: University of Kentucky; Black Soil: Our Better Nature
Region: Southern
State: Kentucky
Principal Investigator:
Dr. Nicole Breazeale
University of Kentucky
Michelle Howell
Need More Acres Farm
Heather Hyden
University of Kentucky
Ashley Smith
Black Soil: Our Better Nature
Dr. Stacy Vincent
University of Kentucky
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Project Information


The project brings together the farmer networks and interviewing/storytelling capacities of Black Soil and Need More Acres Farm with the technical expertise of Agricultural Education and Extension faculty at UK. An advisory group of farmers, educators and one student will work alongside key collaborators to oversee the grant and curriculum development process. 

We propose to develop an interactive curriculum and provide professional development to equip middle school agriculture educators and 4-H Agents at KSU and UK to teach about inclusive local food systems.  Employing a storytelling pedagogy, we will develop five lessons built around digital stories that center black Kentucky farmers and a racially diverse array of local food systems professionals. Youth ages 11-14 are the target audience for this curriculum. As they move through the lessons and collaborate on a social action project, they gain knowledge about local food system, but also learn to appreciate the value of diversity while taking steps to build a more inclusive and sustainable system. The key to successful implementation of the curriculum are three half-day trainings for middle-school agriculture educators/4-H Agents.  Using popular education methodologies, these trainings will introduce the material, but also help teachers build from students' lived experiences.  The project also seeks to strengthen relationships between youth, teachers, and farmers around the state through virtual networking. We will utilize survey and interview methodologies to assess knowledge and behavior changes in youth and teachers with multiple feedback loops in the curriculum design process. We will use story-based evaluation techniques to assess the community-wide impacts of the program.

Project Objectives:

Performance Target: Twenty middle school educators (4-H agents & agriculture education teachers) demonstrate their improved knowledge and skills by each teaching approximately 15 students (300 total) using this 10-lesson curriculum. Through an engaging, multi-media, story-based and interactive curriculum, the module we are developing aims to teach Kentucky youth about the value of diverse local food systems and expose them to a range of career paths in related fields. The three-part video series around which the lessons are built features a racially diverse array of Kentucky farmers and local food systems professionals, making it a particularly relevant teaching tool for non-traditional agriculture students.    


The target audience for this training is middle school agriculture educators and 4-H agents, although the curriculum and training may be of interest to secondary school teachers as well.  The framework and approach is adaptable to a wide range of educational settings. 

Project goals and objectives:

  1. To provide agriculture educators in Kentucky who teach black students with curricula that is culturally relevant and inspires them (as well as their non-black peers) to consider careers in sustainable agriculture.
  2. To provide agriculture educators in Kentucky with lessons that help students gain knowledge about the local food system.
  3. To provide agriculture educators in Kentucky with activities and resources that empower youth to build a more inclusive and sustainable food system.
  4. To develop and provide an interactive training for agricultural educators to learn about inclusive local food systems and increase their capacity to teach the new curriculum.     
  5. To lift up the stories of black farmers and a racially diverse array of local food systems professionals in Kentucky, highlighting how they have built networks of support across racial and class divides.
  6. To expand outreach, financial support, market opportunities, and networking support to black farmers who participate in the development and implementation of this educational curricula and accompanying professional development opportunity.
  7. To foster and deepen relationships amongst racially diverse youth, teachers, farmers, and university faculty across the Commonwealth around a shared knowledge base and concern for making our local food system more equitable and sustainable.

Given that this proposal intends to (a) develop an online curriculum; (b) provide professional development for educators on how to implement the curriculum, it is useful to differentiate learning outcomes for the two component parts since they involve different target audiences.  Note that learning objectives are likely to change based on ongoing feedback from the advisory group. 

Expected learning outcomes for online, story-based curriculum:

K=Knowledge; A=Attitudes; B=Behavior

Youth will learn to:

  1. (K) Differentiate between “stock” stories of blacks farmers and “concealed” or “resistance” stories.
  2. (K) Notice and describe the diversity of lived experiences (and farming systems) of a racially diverse array of farmers and local food systems professionals in Kentucky.
  3. (K) Explore and expand self-knowledge and introspection regarding one’s own story and experiences with the agriculture and food system.
  4. (K) Demonstrate a basic familiarity with some of the main concepts related to local food systems.
  5. (A) Recognize diversity as a positive value for our food and farming system.
  6. (A) Develop empathy for those whose lived experiences are different.  
  7. (A/B) Increase one’s willingness and ability to see complex social issues from different perspectives and vantage points.
  8. (A) Place a higher value on farming as an important and desirable occupation.
  9. (B) Inquire into and begin to ask questions that lead to critical conversations about inclusivity in the food system.
  10. (B) Discover new skills and capacities for collective decision-making and social action that grows the local food system to the benefit of all.
  11. (B) Develop relationships with other youth, farmers, and educators from around the Commonwealth who share common commitments.

Expected learning outcomes for middle school educators who will receive our professional development training and support to pilot the curriculum:

Teachers will learn to:

  1. (K) Demonstrate a basic familiarity with some of the main concepts related to inclusive local food systems.
  2. (A/B) Increase their comfort level and ability to foster productive and authentic conversations about social issues as related to agriculture and food.
  3. (A/B) Realize the importance of supporting black-owned businesses and increase sourcing of local food and flowers from black producers as part of everyday agriculture education work and Extension activities (e.g., buy product at retail cost from local black farmers when youth are practicing for 4-H horticulture judging).
  4. (B) Foster transformative learning for youth by guiding them through the curriculum and engaging them in a social action project of their own design.
  5. (B) Develop relationships with other educators, farmers, and youth from around the Commonwealth who share a common set of commitments.


Educational approach:

We are working with a core team of agricultural educators, farmers, and agricultural-related businesses to develop this middle school curriculum. The complete curriculum along with a teacher’s manual is being developed to transfer knowledge about inclusive and sustainable local food systems to a wide variety of youth.


Digital storytelling is a powerful tool for challenging stereotypes, fostering connection across difference, and inspiring action; thus, the heart of the curriculum is three 20-minute videos that lift up the stories of black Kentucky farmers and a diverse array of food systems professionals that are working together to grow the local food system. Additionally, the 10 lessons and social action project that is built around these videos utilizes a popular education approach (Friere 2018), which recognizes that all students have important lived experiences with the food system to share. The classroom activities encourage sharing of this knowledge and develop from the collective experience of the group within their particular context.


The educator training also benefits from this popular educational approach as teachers will be introduced to the videos and lessons, but will also have an opportunity to try out these activities and explore how the content and conversation might develop differently in light of the needs and lived experiences of differently positioned youth.   

Education & Outreach Initiatives

Milestone #1

Development of 3-part digital storytelling video series (each episode is 20 minutes). 


Episode 1 is about what it means to be a Kentucky farmer producing for the local food system.  This episode is for youth who may be interested in farming in urban or rural areas. It shows students how to get into this field and highlights how farmers work together to create a community of mutual aid and support and expand options for everyone.  It features two Kentucky farmers who direct market their meat and produce, along with guest appearances from five other farmers who participated in the 2022 Equity in Ag event hosted by Need More Acres Farm. 


Episode 2 demonstrates that farming is only one aspect of the local food system, emphasizing the diverse ways that students can play a role in their local food system to support their community.  This episode focuses on the importance of education, food access, and supporting the local food economy through farmers markets and co-ops. It underscores the importance that everyone, regardless of income or circumstance, can access fresh, local produce. It features an Extension Family & Consumer Sciences Agent (nutritionist), Farmers Market Manager, and Produce Manager/Buyer for a local grocery story.  


Episode 3 illustrates diverse ways that teenagers can be important players in the local food system.  The video features 3 Kentucky youth in rural and urban settings who are passionate about making a difference in their communities through beekeeping, farming, and community-based local food systems work.  The youth also speak to the importance of sustainable agriculture practices for the future.  A key message is that there are many meaningful ways for youth to get involved in their local food system, and that there are resources (like ag educators) to support them along the way. The episode also includes a middle school agriculture educator.  


In addition, the series features a social influencer in the Intro and Outro. Avery Williamson grew up in 4-H, played football at UK, retired from playing professional football, and is now returning to farming in his hometown of Milan.

Outcomes and impacts:

Status: Completed June/July 2023


Accomplishments: These videos will be shared at the upcoming KCTE conference training (July 20, 2023) with approximately 20 middle school agriculture educators and will be used by teachers who pilot the curriculum during the 2023-2024 school year.  After we have made changes recommended by the teachers, they will be publicly available through our website. 

Milestone #2

Development of ten 45-minute lesson plans + social action project that integrate the 3 videos.


Module 1: Introducing the Food System

  • Lesson 1.1: Nike Shoes, Systems Thinking, & Consumer Responsibility (introduces systems-thinking)
  • Lesson 1.2: The Path of My Popcorn (introduces the parts of a food system)
  • Lesson 1.3: Global and Local Food Systems (differentiates between types of food systems)


Module 2: Farming for the Kentucky Local Food Systems

  • Lesson 2.1: Challenging the “Single Story” of a Kentucky Farmer (includes first half of Episode 1)
  • Lesson 2.2: The Importance of Partnerships for Local Food Producers (includes the second half of Episode 1)


Module 3: Local Food and Community

  • Lesson 3.1: Food, Culture, and Community (focuses on culturally important foods and fresh food access; includes first half of Episode 2)
  • Lesson 3.2: The Importance of Food Connectors (includes second half of Episode 2)


Module 4: Sustainability and Youth Involvement in the Local Food System

  • Lesson 4.1: Sustainability and Ecological Diversity in the Food System (includes first half of Episode 3)
  • Lesson 4.2: Just Get Started! (involves exploring different food systems career paths; includes second half of Episode 3)
  • Lesson 4.3: Just Get Started: Part 2! (involves exploring pathways to becoming a food influencer and making local food systems more resilient and diverse NOW)


Social Action Project – Guidelines/rubric to help teachers support full class / group projects that allow students to apply what they learned and take action to improve their local food system.

Outcomes and impacts:

Status: Completed June/July 2023


Accomplishments: These lessons will be shared at the upcoming KCTE conference training (July 20, 2023) with approximately 20 middle school agriculture educators and will be used by teachers who pilot the curriculum during the 2023-2024 school year.  After we have made changes recommended by the teachers, they will be publicly available through our website. 

Milestone #3

Piloting of Episode 1 & related lessons in the classroom.


The first half of the curriculum was successfully taught in two urban middle school ag education classrooms in May 2023.

Outcomes and impacts:

Status: Completed May 2023



The teacher and 25 racially diverse students felt the lessons and video were engaging, informative, and well-pitched to a middle school audience.  Students were able to explain key lesson ideas and talk about how the curriculum challenged their own assumptions and thinking. The lessons were adapted based on their informal feedback and observational data. 

Milestone #4

Introduce the curriculum and train educators on how to teach it.


Our team has been given a half-day session at the upcoming KCTE conference (July 20, 2023) to providing training on the curriculum.  We expect approximately 15-20 agriculture educators to attend. 


A team of 4-H educators will then adapt the curriculum for Extension Agents this summer. Our next educator training will be for 4-H Agents in the Fall. 

Outcomes and impacts:

Status: Ongoing

Educational & Outreach Activities

1 Curricula, factsheets or educational tools
1 Other educational activities: 3-part video series was also created

Participation Summary:

2 Extension
1 Researchers
9 Farmers/ranchers
6 Others
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.