By ANELA MIKI-HAN & JOANNE GUINTU
Spring is one of the busiest times of the year for AGRIscapes. Hundreds of students, parents and teachers from local schools visit the AGRIscapes Discovery Farm to explore and learn about agriculture in a fun and interactive way. Unfortunately, due to the coronavirus pandemic, all field trips and events planned for the spring semester have been canceled.
AGRIscapes is an educational outreach branch of the Huntley College of Agriculture that aims to provide a hands-on learning experience for the surrounding community. According to an AGRIscapes press release, “more than 10,000 schoolchildren and parents visited AGRIscapes for field trips this past fall” and more visitors were expected this spring.
The agriculture outreach center’s popular spring event “Spring FUN on the Farm” — where visitors have the chance to pet farm animals, ride the antique tractor hayride, pick berries and visit the children’s garden — is usually hosted during March, April and May.
AGRIscapes has made an effort to continue its tradition of promoting educational experiences for students amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Despite the unusual circumstances, AGRIscapes has managed to bring the field trip experience to children remotely. The program now offers “Virtual Field Trips,” an online learning and resource center for participants to enjoy at home.
Every week, a new lesson is uploaded on the website based on farm-related subjects from the Discovery Farm field trips. Each lesson is filled with fun, interactive activities about each week’s topic such as informational videos, quizzes, worksheets, games and coloring pages. Some activities include downloadable sheets, such as word searches, bingos and crossword puzzles for students to print out.
There are six lessons in total and students receive a badge each time they complete a lesson. Once they have obtained all six badges, they become a certified junior farmer at Discovery Farm. Since their first lesson was posted on April 17, the “Virtual Field Trips” have attracted about 1,200 viewers.
So far, the outreach center has produced three lessons about insects, plants and farm animals. The center expects to post three more lessons every Monday for the next three weeks.
If students and visitors want to learn even more, the program also includes additional resources on agriculture education.
“We hope children, teachers and parents enjoy using these materials,” said Craig Walters, the AGRIscapes director. “And hopefully they’ll be able to come back to our Discovery Farm sometime soon.”
In addition to its field trips, AGRIscapes has also canceled multiple popular events it holds during the spring, such as the egg hunt, strawberry picking and spring harvest dinner.
The Farm Store, however, is still open for business. Shoppers must adhere to social distancing rules by staying six feet away from others and wearing a face mask. Visitors are asked not to bring reusable shopping bags and will be provided with disposable bags at no extra cost.
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