RICHMOND—While Virginia Agriculture in the Classroom’s volunteer reading program was different this year, it was no less successful.
Virginia AITC celebrated Agriculture Literacy Week March 15-19 with volunteers reading to students virtually and in socially distanced settings. AITC distributed 2,085 agriculture-themed books to schools, preschools and daycare centers in Virginia, and an estimated 500 volunteers participated in the event.
“Each year, this is truly an opportunity for a child to meet someone involved in agriculture,” said Tammy Maxey, Virginia AITC programs director. “Volunteers often get many questions from children who are inquisitive about how the reader is involved in agriculture, from living on a farm to working in a government or corporate office.”
Volunteers read the 2021 AITC Book of the Year, How Did That Get in My Lunchbox? by Chris Butterworth. The book gives children a unique peek inside a student’s lunchbox and shares a farm-to-table journey, visiting farms throughout the country to learn the source of some of their favorite foods.
Using imagination and unique approaches, volunteers made virtual readings fun and engaging for students. Some even donned special outfits.
“The most original virtual event was Farm Credit of the Virginias’ Reading Adventure,” Maxey explained. “Children and classrooms registered for the event and received a link to the book reading. A different volunteer from Farm Credit read each page, often with their own family or dressed in costume. That was quite creative.”
Volunteers also brought props like lunchboxes full of food to support the book’s theme. One volunteer read aloud in a barn full of cattle.
“The true storytellers among our volunteers shined as they used facial expressions and intonation to bring the story to life right through the screen,” Maxey said.
Local Farm Bureaus and FFA chapters also partnered to organize in-person readings, as FFA already had students in school who could provide these experiences.
“It’s inspiring to see the entire farming community joining forces to provide children with agriculture’s story during 2021,” Maxey said. “This is an example of how working together teaches valuable lessons of caring and sharing, along with growing food for our community.”
Since its beginning in 2011, Agriculture Literacy Week has been one of the largest and most successful AITC educational events. To date, more than 22,000 agriculture-related books have been placed in classrooms, and more than 15,000 volunteers have read to about half a million children.
Volunteers include county Farm Bureau leaders, Farm Bureau Women’s Program and Young Farmers participants, FFA and 4-H members, partners from the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services and other state agencies, and members of other agricultural organizations and businesses. Colonial Farm Credit, Farm Credit of the Virginias and Southern States Cooperative Inc. also have been major supporters.
–Virginia Farm Bureau