ITHACA, N.Y. –New York Agriculture in the Classroom recognizes an exceptional teacher who incorporates learning through a lens of agriculture into their curriculum each year. We are pleased to announce the selection of Jeremiah Best, 5th Grade Teacher at the Town of Webb Union Free School District (UFSD), as the 2020 New York Agriculture Teacher of the Year and as the USDA National Excellence in Teaching about Agriculture Award winner. Best recognized the need for incorporating agriculture into his classroom curriculum in order to advance student learning through relevant and engaging experiential learning experiences and is well-deserving of this state and national recognition.
Best will be representing New York Agriculture in the Classroom as a model educator who incorporates agriculture as a context for learning in his fifth-grade classroom and the rest of the school at Town of Webb UFSD in Old Forge, New York. As an outstanding example of an educator who champions teaching through agriculture, Best will also be renowned nationally for embracing a school garden as a way to help his students deal with a mental health crisis in their community over the last five years.
Each year the National Agriculture in the Classroom Organization (NAITCO), U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Farm Credit partner to recognize exceptional teachers by presenting them with the Excellence in Teaching about Agriculture Award. This competitive program recognizes state selected teacher recipients for their successful efforts in teaching agricultural concepts in their curriculum. As New York’s Teacher of the Year, Best had the opportunity to apply for this prestigious award. Best was one of only eight teachers from across the country to be recognized for the innovative ways they use agricultural concepts to teach reading, writing, math, science, social studies, STEM, STEAM and more.
Best first brought the idea of cross-curricular agricultural education to his district five years ago. Identifying the obstacles to introducing agriculture to a non-agricultural community in the remote Adirondack Mountains as an exciting new opportunity, he began to work with the entire K-12 building wide population to create agricultural spaces and opportunities.
The school is now in its fourth year of having a community garden that is used by multiple teachers and community members. Because of the garden, students have had the opportunity to add a drip irrigation system, receive visits from nutritionists, learned to re-engineer the raised bed design to keep out wildlife, and more. Students at Town of Webb UFSD have also planted a 3,000 square foot pollinator garden and develop an extensive maple sugarbush at their school, all because of Best’s efforts and creativity. Their school brand, “Sandlot Maple”, has sparked interest in teachers, students, and community members. This motivated community are working with local foresters, town boards, and county officials to potentially develop the region into a maple producing powerhouse for the state.
Best’s students participate in the Trout in the Classroom program, where his students grow trout from eggs until they become fingerlings, which is when they stock a local lake. This multi-curricular program allows students to participate in field studies and use their knowledge as well as work with professionals to draw conclusions and create understanding about global cycles and the world around them.
Best’s students can often be found 3D printing parts for tanks, converting measurements in metrics, writing articles about their progress, and brainstorming how to improve their projects. Through an extensive compost project led by Best’s class, “Sandlot Compost”, students learn about the carbon and nitrogen cycles, decomposers, energy cycles, and more by using coffee grinds and other biomass from a local coffee shop, combined with leaves, and manure from other sources to create soil for the school garden. It is estimated to date that they have kept close to 40,000 pounds of biomass out of landfills.
Jeremiah Best is an incredible example of an innovative and passionate educator who believes in the importance of his students understanding and appreciating our food and fiber systems in their community. One parent said of her daughter’s experience, “Little did I know that [one] year with him would singlehandedly change her life and open so many doors for her future. Mr. Best is one of the few teachers I have seen that goes so very far above and beyond what is required of him as an elementary school teacher.”
Best will be recognized for his accomplishments as New York Agriculture in the Classroom’s Teacher or the Year and as a 2020 National Excellence in Teaching about Agriculture Award winner at the 2020 National Agriculture in the Classroom Conference “Agriculture Elevated” June 24-26, now being held virtually.
For more information about the New York Agriculture in the Classroom Teacher of the Year program, visit the website at www.agclassroom.org/ny. New York Agriculture in the Classroom is an outreach program of Cornell University. Working with classroom teachers, volunteers, and agriculture’s stakeholders throughout the state, New York Agriculture in the Classroom fosters an awareness, understanding, and appreciation of our food and fiber system.
–Katie Carpenter, NY Agriculture in the Classroom