November 30, 2020

Adventures With Farmer Fred: West Bend-Mallard FFA Helps Kids Learn About Agriculture

20150115_maxyield_209 (1024x681)When Anita Fisher gets a good idea to promote agriculture, she’s not afraid to share it, even if the concept might seem a little unusual at first. Consider Farmer Fred, who introduces agriculture to young children in a fun, interactive way.

“I think the FFA students thought I was insane when I suggested using Farmer Fred to teach young students in the school about agriculture,” said Fisher, the West Bend-Mallard ag instructor
and Hawkeye FFA advisor. “I was also worried that Cindy Bormann, the West Bend-Mallard Little Rines’ Early Childhood teacher, would think I was crazy.”

Bormann, who teaches 26 children ages three to five at the West Bend-Mallard school, loved the idea, however. Farmer Fred is inspired by Flat Stanley, a beloved children’s book character who goes on a series of adventures. Fisher asked one of her FFA students to create a fictional character similar to Flat Stanley who could follow local FFA students around to many different farm-related activities. Farmer Fred came to life after Aaron Montag sketched him on a piece of paper, complete with the iconic blue FFA jacket.

“While we live in an ag community, fewer kids come from a farm background,” Fisher said. “I saw Farmer Fred as a way to keep them connected.”

Farmer Fred became an instant hit when he debuted in the fall of 2013. His adventures at West Bend-Mallard have included photographs of himself riding in a combine, which allows the FFA students to engage the children in conversations about what farmers do at harvest. The FFA students and Farmer Fred have also brought baby pigs and goats to school.

“The Early Childhood students get very excited when they see a visual of the Farmer Fred fictional character on our daily schedule,” Bormann said. “They ask, ‘What’s Farmer Fred going to tell us about today?’ and ‘When will Farmer Fred’s friends be coming to our classroom?’”

Kids soak up information like “little sponges”
Throughout the year, the FFA students take photos of Farmer Fred with their supervised agricultural experience (SAE) projects. They host Farmer Fred activities about once every two months and spend 15 to 30 minutes each time with the preschool and pre-K students.

20150115_maxyield_193 (1024x681)“Farmer Fred is a great way to connect to the younger kids and talk about agriculture,” said Colton Wickman, a West Bend-Mallard sophomore. “They associate him with our blue FFA jackets.”

The Early Childhood students were thrilled when the FFA students drove their tractors to school one day. “The young students thought it was awesome to stand by the tires and see how big the equipment is,” Fisher said. “They also loved climbing up in the cab to sit with Farmer Fred and an FFA member.”

Activities as simple as having a high school ag student read to a preschooler also make a positive impact. “The students recognize Farmer Fred and his FFA friends as trusted adults who share their knowledge of agriculture,” Bormann said. “As Farmer Fred explains photographs of ag-related experiences with the children, the kids learn new vocabulary words and soak up information like little sponges.”

The preschoolers also loved the opportunity to visit the Davis dairy farm in Humboldt County last year and are looking forward to an end-of-the-year field trip to the Knobloch farm near West Bend to see the animals and the farm equipment. “There’s nothing like hands-on learning,” Bormann said.

Advocating for agriculture
Farmer Fred hasn’t just benefited the preschoolers. The program has challenged the FFA members to think about the best way to explain agriculture so that someone with little or no farming knowledge can better understand.

“While agriculture is second nature to us, it’s not for most people,” Fisher said. “Working with the children teaches the ag students to communicate better with people of all ages, which has helped them become better ag-vocates.”

While Farmer Fred is fun, numerous Iowa Early Learning standards and Teaching Strategies GOLD objectives are met each time Farmer Fred and the FFA students collaborate with the Early Childhood classes.

“The preschool and pre-K students express curiosity, interest, and initiative in exploring their environment by engaging in experiences and learning new skills, which meets the Iowa Early
Learning standard 9.1,” Bormann said. “The young children also demonstrate positive approaches to learning, in addition to remembering and connecting experiences, which reflects
Teaching Strategies GOLD objectives 11 and 12.”

Fisher is glad her passion for Ag in the Classroom can benefit not only her high school ag students, but younger students as well. “It’s exciting to see the FFA kids take ownership in this program and help it grow,” she said.

Bormann agrees. “I feel fortunate to collaborate with the FFA students and Farmer Fred. I’m very grateful to Ms. Fisher for her creative vision and her willingness to help my students learn about agriculture.”

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