National Agriculture in the Classroom and the Grange Foundation selected Carol Baker-Dunn of Georgia as the winner of the 2017 Agriculture Advocate Award.
Baker-Dunn said she was “absolutely shocked” when she found out she won the award.
“I never would’ve guessed anything like that would’ve happened!” Baker-Dunn said.
Grange Foundation board member Joan Smith – who also serves as president of Potomac Grange which is the DC state contact for National Agriculture in the Classroom – presented the Agriculture Advocate Award plaque and $3,500 prize money to Baker-Dunn at the annual National Agriculture in the Classroom conference in Kansas, where over 400 K-12 teachers and educators from across the country attended.
“She was well-spoken with great energy,” Smith said. “She grew up in agriculture, and we appreciate her trying to share that with the educational community.”
Donna Rocker, Coordinator for Georgia Agriculture in the Classroom, says Baker-Dunn was very deserving of the award.
“Carol Baker-Dunn is a DO·er. She [is] creative. She doesn’t say no and she doesn’t take no for an answer,” said Rocker.
She describes Baker-Dunn as passionate and driven. “When you combine her passion for agriculture and education with her innate drive to get things done, you have a person who manages her work in the poultry industry with pumping up teachers and volunteers like herself to bring agricultural literacy to the schools in her county,” said Rocker.
Baker-Dunn is a self-proclaimed “country girl” who grew up on a 2,500-acre row crop farm in the little town of Obion, Tennessee.
She moved to Georgia for work and was surprised at how quickly the school system was growing. However, she was even more shocked at how little the kids knew about where their food comes from.
She knew she had to do something about this lack of agricultural literacy after going to her son’s pre-K class to do a presentation and a 4-year old challenged her that “milk doesn’t come from cows; it comes from grocery stores!”
From there, she was inspired to take matters into her own hands and start educating kids about agriculture.
This led her to help establish the Georgia Farm Bureau Foundation for Agriculture which oversees agricultural literacy outreach in schools throughout the state. She also started an elementary school agricultural reading program, a school garden implementation effort, a book barn lending library, and a classroom grant funding opportunity.
When she heard about the Georgia Agriculture in the Classroom Educator Workshop/Farm Experience in 2015, she began setting up meetings with school district administrators and Georgia Agriculture in the Classroom.
She worked with her employer Perdue Farms to include a tour of the poultry processing plant. Teachers from around the state went to the workshop. It was a huge success and led to another full workshop in 2016.
Her connections with agribusiness and the schools culminated in a STEM project that allowed elementary students to design systems to help with plant efficiencies at Perdue Farms.
She said her employer has been great throughout the entire process. “Perdue has always been extremely supportive,” Baker-Dunn expressed.
Smith said it was the connection Baker-Dunn made for the students with industry that helped her nomination stand out.
“I think her work in getting Perdue to allow school visits is admirable,” Smith said. “There will always be jobs in agriculture because there are more and more people on the planet to feed. Even as the technology expands and we create more efficiencies in agriculture, the career field is going to continue grow alongside the population.”
Baker-Dunn and Georgia Ag in the Class are now working towards making it a standard for teachers to incorporate agriculture into their curriculum in their school system.
Baker-Dunn said is very proud of the progress that she’s seen in the schools.
“One little argument with a 4-year old has grown into this, and I am absolutely still blown away by what my teachers are doing and how they are embracing it,” said Baker-Dunn.
She loves the enthusiastic response the kids have when learning about agriculture, and that alone makes it all worth it for her.
“The biggest thing is seeing my kids, that have never been exposed to any of this stuff, get excited about it. Just the look on their faces,” said Baker-Dunn. “That’s worth more than any paycheck that I could get out of it.”
Rocker says people like Baker-Dunn are crucial to Agriculture in the Classroom because while the organization strives to develop the best materials and dynamic training workshops for teachers, their mission could not be accomplished without volunteers.
“The local volunteers are the ones available to go into the classroom on a regular basis to read books or do activities, provide local grants, help build school gardens, and all the other things that create that community partnership,” Rocker said.
Baker-Dunn says she encourages others to volunteer in helping to promote agricultural literacy.
“It’s easy just go read a book to a bunch of kids; you don’t have to do anything else. Start there,” she said.