Imagine this... writing contest brings farming to life for students
September/October 2007 California Country magazine
By Kelly Cormier and Barbara Arciero
Young authors win top honors in the California Foundation for Agriculture in the Classroom's 13th annual "Imagine this…" story writing contest.
Winners of the "Imagine this..." contest are: Andrew Moss, third grade, Apple Valley, San Bernardino County ("Cow vs. Farmer"); Bo Cherry, fifth grade, Arbuckle, Colusa County ("The Journey of Wallace Waterdrop"); Cheyenne Rogers, seventh grade, Colusa, Colusa County ("Rice Ready"); Amelia Clyatt, eighth grade, Mt. Shasta, Siskiyou County ("Honey Bzzz"); and Brenna Gittins, fourth grade, Lincoln, Placer County ("The Best Buffet Ever"). Not pictured is Samantha Coombs, sixth grade, Arbuckle, Colusa County ("A Scarecrow's Dairy").
One student imagined how an extraterrestrial might conduct a taste-test of California-grown goodies. Another explained the teamwork required to bring in a rice harvest. Still another gave a water drop a name and a personality and chronicled his journey to provide irrigation for a tomato field.
These young authors and three others won top honors in the California Foundation for Agriculture in the Classroom's 13th annual "Imagine this…" story writing contest.
For third-grader Andrew Moss, seeing his story about hard-working dairy cows transformed into an animated mini-movie was definitely a highlight of the contest. Of the more than 10,000 agriculturally based stories written for the contest, the top six--one for each grade level from third through eighth--were brought to life through a digital video production created by Sacramento-area art students.
"I think they did an awesome job," Andrew said of the high school animators. "They made it all look really real."
While the talking cows featured in the youngster's story weren't exactly "real," the lessons learned through the contest certainly are.
"It gives you a very, very big experience when you get to read all the books to find something to write about," said Andrew, whose teacher, Suzi Smith, encouraged her students at Mariana School in urban San Bernardino County to enter the contest. "I think that's a good example because I learned a lot more about cows than I knew before. I just knew they made milk. Now I know they make ice cream, cheese, meat sometimes, whipped cream--a bunch of different stuff."
And now that he's getting settled into the 2007-08 school year, would Andrew like to try the contest again?
"Of course I will," he said. "I like getting to use your imagination to make a story and enter it for people to read."
Erin McGowan, a teacher at Our Lady of Lourdes School in Colusa, has made the "Imagine this…" writing contest a regular part of the curriculum in her seventh- and eighth-grade classes. McGowan comes from a farming background and was brought up with an appreciation of agriculture in a family of corn growers and millers and cattle ranchers.
"I try to teach my students about all of California agriculture, not just what's grown in their local area," McGowan said. "Most of these students can recognize an almond tree or a rice field, but they also need to know why they can get milk from the grocery store year-round and all the different ways we consume grapes."
McGowan's seventh-grade author, Cheyenne Rogers, says her father, a rice and cotton farmer, gave her the idea for her winning story, "Rice Ready."
"I knew my dad grew rice, but I never knew it was called agriculture. Now our whole class has learned about a ton of things that are all agriculture," Cheyenne said, adding that she has been recognized not only through two Ag in the Classroom events, but in school assemblies, a meeting of her school board, her local newspaper and at her county Farm Bureau's annual dinner.
Prior to introducing her students to the contest this past year, Mt. Shasta teacher Sandy Scofield said she had no idea there were such resources specifically designed to teach students about the origins of their food and fiber.
"Suddenly a whole new wealth of information is available to me and for my students," Scofield said. "It's really opened my eyes as to how applicable the study of agriculture can be in any subject."
Scofield's eighth-grade student, Amelia Clyatt, wrote a story about the busy life of a multi-tasking worker bee. The student explained that her work on an essay for a 4-H competition inspired her to continue researching the industrious insect for the "Imagine this…" contest.
"I was writing an essay about the declining population of bees and other pollinators for 4-H, so I was thinking, I already know all about bees so I can use the same information for this contest. But it didn't really work out that way. As I got started writing, I found out how much I didn't know. Bees are such complex and amazing creatures."
With a laugh, Amelia added, "I started out the story with a male bee as the lead character. Then I found out only the female bees are workers in the hives and the drones (males) really don't do anything but mate with the queen."
Aside from having the opportunity to learn more about one of agriculture's hardest workers, Amelia is quick to point out another benefit of participating in the "Imagine this…" competition.
"Winning this contest made me realize I can get my voice out through my essays," she said. "It was very encouraging to me to have all these people listening and hopefully learning from the work that I'd done."
Judy Culbertson agrees that the "Imagine this…" program is a way for Californians of all ages to discover the fundamental role agriculture plays in everyone's life.
"We hope that by writing about it, the students will begin to understand and take an interest in agriculture as a whole," said Culbertson, Ag in the Classroom's executive director. "One of these students may go on to study agriculture in college, or become a scientist or a farmer or an educator based on what he or she learned from this exercise. And that's really what keeps agriculture alive."
It's your turn
Despite living in the nation's top agricultural state, most California students don't know much about the origin of the food they eat. The California Foundation for Agriculture in the Classroom wants to help these students understand where their food really comes from--and they do this each fall by sponsoring the "Imagine this..." story writing contest.
The competition is designed to bring the world of agriculture to life for third- through eighth-grade students, while also satisfying the California Department of Education's content standards for writing.
- Encourage your child's teacher to assign "Imagine this…" as a class activity in language arts.
- Call (800) 700-AITC to request 2007-08 contest brochures for your school, home or library.
- Visit www.cfaitc.org/imaginethis to read winning stories from previous years and to view guidelines and details.
- "Imagine this…" is open to all California students in third through eighth grades.
- Stories must demonstrate a clear, positive connection to California agriculture and are limited to 750 words or less.
- Entries must be postmarked by Nov. 1.
- Statewide winners receive awards including medals and savings bonds. And, new this year, winning stories will be published in a book illustrated by high school art students.
Kelly Cormier is communications coordinator for the California Foundation for Agriculture in the Classroom. Barbara Arciero is managing editor for the California Farm Bureau Federation. They can be reached at 800-698-FARM or email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.