This post is part of the Science Tuesday feature series on the USDA blog. Check back each week as we showcase stories and news from USDA’s rich science and research portfolio.
Carolyn Menne, an instructor with the Maryland Agricultural Education Foundation (MAEF), quieted the kindergartners seated in the aisle of the outreach organization’s Mobile Science Laboratory, parked at the Beltsville Academy in Beltsville, Maryland.
She held up a purple Baltimore Ravens T-shirt, prompting some kids to cheer, while others looked on politely. (It turned out that they were Washington fans.) The shirt was one of about a dozen items Menne used to illustrate the connections between agriculture and the students’ daily lives—including popular sporting events they like to watch, such as a Ravens football game.
The shirt, she explained, is made of the soft natural fibers of a crop called cotton. “The cotton growers grow [the cotton] and then sell it to the T-shirt makers,” Menne said.
The class was actually one of 20 half-hour lessons Menne and other MAEF instructors taught over 4 days to the school’s diverse students, grades K-5, as part of a unique partnership with the Friends of Agricultural Research-Beltsville (FAR-B) and USDA’s Agricultural Research Service (ARS) Henry A. Wallace Beltsville Agricultural Research Center (BARC), located a few minutes away from the school.
The event is part of partnership that FAR-B and BARC have with the school—and marks the 11th consecutive year of the partnership between FAR-B and BARC, and the third consecutive year with MAEF—noted FAR-B president Jim Anderson, a former BARC researcher.
"Beltsville Academy has had a long tradition of partnering with BARC and FAR-B to enrich the science curriculum at our school,” said Leslie Lowe, the school’s principal. “The Mobile Lab is one of our most anticipated activities every year—by both students and teachers. The community connection and the support our school receives from FAR-B is an invaluable asset."
This year’s volunteers included Susan Bentz, a horticulturist with ARS’s U.S. National Arboretum, and Joe Alfieri, a physical scientist with ARS’s Hydrology and Remote Sensing Laboratory.
Alfieri assisted MAEF instructor Jane Howe with “Fiber Up for a Clean Sweep,” a lesson in which fourth- and fifth-graders learned about the nutritional importance of soluble and insoluble fiber.
The combination of science and agriculture under one roof—such as that of the Mobile Science Laboratory—is a unique opportunity to educate students about two important and intertwined topics that might otherwise escape their attention, noted Anderson.
"I like it when they get excited. I want them to think about what agriculture means to their daily lives from the minute they get up in the morning until the minute they go to bed at night,” said Howe. “From the crayons they use to the ingredients in the foods they eat, somehow and somewhere a farmer made their life better."