“Ag in Action” Presented to the Public
Auburn, AL, Sept. 25, 2013
Ag in Action Lab's Ribbon Cutting
A large group of interested and invested people attended a ribbon-cutting ceremony for a very unique project at the Cherokee County Career and Tech Center (Tech Center) on September 18, 2013--the unveiling of the “Ag in Action” trailer. This 26-foot learning lab on wheels is the first in Alabama and only the fourth in the nation. It is designed to be setup at local K-middle schools to allow students to experience farming hands-on.
Beth Farmer from the Cherokee County Farm Service Agency (FSA) welcomed the group to the ribbon-cutting and gave a brief time-line of the project. Dignitaries addressing the crowd included Dr. Philip Cleveland, Director, Alabama Department of ED Career and Technical Education; Dr. Mitchell Guice, Superintendent Cherokee County Schools; Brett Keasler, Tech Center Director; Keith Tolbert, Tech Center Instructor; Eddie May, Coosa Valley Resource Conservation and Development (RC&D) Council; and Kyle Hayes, ALFA Area III Director.
The Ag in Action lab is very impressive and catches the eye. It is covered inside and out with almost life-like photos of cattle, poultry, crops, trees and other scenes of agriculture taken at local farms and lands. Inside is an “ag simulator,” a converted cotton picker cab donated by Donald Sewell, a local farmer from Etowah County. While sitting in the vibrating seat, students can imagine being a farmer and harvesting cotton, corn, and soybean crops through audio visuals. Videos of a cattle farm, a poultry house, and harvesting timber are also available.
Four computer learning stations inside give students the opportunity to learn the importance of farming using touch screen technology. Outside, mounted on the back of the trailer, is a large screen TV that creates another learning station giving students virtual visits to local farms and agricultural related venues. Additional learning stations like the Eviroscape, a miniature cotton gin, and a Milking Cow can be added outside around the lab to keep multiple groups of students involved at one time.
Everyone agrees that the project would not have been a reality had it not been for the agency partnerships, in-kind hours, grants, donations, and sponsors. The planning committee thanks the many people who supported the project. The participants from seven counties--Etowah, Cherokee, St. Clair, Blount, DeKalb, Marshall, and Calhoun—include SWCDs; the Alabama Farmers Federation (ALFA); Coosa Valley and Alabama Mountains, Rivers and Valleys RC&Ds; USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and FSA; and the Alabama Cooperative Extension System (ACES). Other sponsors include Snead Ag; First South Farm Credit; Gilreath Printing and Signs; Alabama Farm Credit; Cherokee Cotton and Gin; Tile Liquidators; and Cherokee County Career and Technology Center.
The participation of the Tech Center staff and students is especially noted. Instructor Keith Tolbert took ideas that were presented to him, encouraged participation from his students, and, sometimes, worked seven days a week to build the project. Tolbert is very passionate about his students and this learning experience. He said, “The project took them full-circle. It gave them a great opportunity to ply their trade while creating a learning device for other students.” Superintendent Guice said, “These are the type of opportunities that we are looking for to encourage our students. Almost every department in the school has had their hands on the project in some way.”
Sharron Gross, Chairman of the Etowah County Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD), was one of the first visionaries to energize the project. She said, “I am very proud of how this project has turned out and feel very blessed to be a part of it.”
Sarah Butterworth, who is employed through the Etowah County Farmers Federation, is the coordinator for the learning lab. She will be traveling around the seven counties and setting it up for educational events. She said, “Ag in Action is an amazing way to bring agriculture to life and teach students about agriculture. It allows them to make the connection between the farm and their everyday lives. Using the lab, students will learn where their food and fiber grows and how it is produced.” She also talked about the Tech Center students and their dedication to the project. “We're extremely grateful for the Tech Center students and facility for their vision and work, especially in transforming the cotton picker cab into an ag simulator. They brought it to life,” she said.
The Ag in Action trailer is already being scheduled for schools, county fairs, and agricultural events within the seven county area.