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Imagine this...

Sept./Oct. 2010 California Country magazine

Young minds sparkle in their farm-inspired tales.



Tying literature, art and science together in one classroom project is no easy feat, but fifth-grade teacher Catherine Rojas knows how to do it. For nearly a decade, she has been using the "Imagine this..." Story Writing Contest, hosted by the California Foundation for Agriculture in the Classroom, to fold these subject areas into one exciting project.

"In fifth grade we go to the Los Angeles County Fair, which has a section devoted to agriculture," Rojas said. "It's usually the first time our students have seen the different aspects of farming and they use the experience to write their stories."

This year a story by Claudia Lopez, one of Rojas' students at Fred Ekstrand Elementary School in San Dimas, was the winning fifth-grade story.

Statewide, the contest generates more than 10,000 stories from children in grades three through eight. The stories range from the fanciful—flying farm tractors and talking insects—to those that touch on larger issues, like saving water.

"Not only is this a wonderful exercise in reading, writing and composition, but it allows students to discover the wide-reaching and deeply rooted importance of agriculture," said Judy Culbertson, the foundation's executive director. "Children from small towns and big cities alike depend on the food and fiber created by farmers, and this contest allows them to make their own personal connection to the people and practices that provide so many of our daily needs."

Regional winning stories are reviewed by a judging panel that includes a librarian, a teacher or principal, an agriculturalist and a representative of the Walmart Foundation, the contest's sponsor. One finalist is selected for each grade level.

Winning stories are then enhanced through the artistic talents of graphic design, art and photography students in Sacramento-area high schools and included in a softcover book.

To enjoy the wild and wonderful imaginations of California schoolchildren, here are previews of the winning stories from the 2009 "Imagine this..." Story Writing Contest.

"The Water Waster"

J.D. Ortiz
3rd grade, Kerman-Floyd Elementary
Fresno County
Teachers: Margaret Nichols and Michelle Karagozian
Illustrated by Inderkum High School, Sacramento

Wasting water, what does it matter? Carter, an 8-year-old boy in Kerman, finds out every drop counts, especially during a drought. But it takes a really bad dream—being chased by shriveled plants and thirsty farmers—for him to finally sit down and talk about the problem with his family. What he learns provides important lessons for everyone.

J.D. said, "I was a little nervous about the story assignment. At first I didn't see how agriculture was part of my life, but I did some reading and learned water and farming are important to everybody."

"The Compost Worms"

Nicole Groteguth
4th grade, Gratton Elementary
Stanislaus County
Teacher: Pennie Segna
Illustrated by Delta High School, Clarksburg

Banana peels, wilted lettuce and last night's leftover newspaper scraps turn into a feast with a side dish of added benefits for Stella Worm and agriculture. The young girl-worm learns that worms help enrich the soil, a job they've performed for thousands of years.

All that munching turns out to be a big benefit for farmers who grow crops for people to eat.

Nicole said, "I studied worms in class and saw how they help the soil, which helps farmers. Since my family grows hay and raises livestock, I saw how it tied together."

"Julio's Fig Adventure"

Claudia Lopez
5th grade, Fred Ekstrand Elementary
Los Angeles County
Teacher: Catherine Rojas
Illustrated by Woodland High School, Woodland

A fascination with figs turns into a family project after young Julio does some research on the fruit. With help from his mom, they cook up a recipe for fig marmalade and enter it in a contest at the county fair. With Julio's whole family involved, they head to the fair to face the judges. Julio finds there's more to love than winning first place.

Claudia said, "I've grown up listening to my grandmother tell stories about growing up on a farm. One of those stories made me think about my ties to agriculture and gave me an idea about figs."

"The Magic Green Tractor Visits the Dairy Farm"

Anna Harris
6th grade, Grenada Elementary
Siskiyou County
Teacher: Debbi Hoy
Illustrated by Sheldon High School, Elk Grove

Zip, zip, zap. A field trip on Ms. Jersey's magical tractor ends up at an amazing dairy farm. The class follows the process of milking cows and preparing milk for market. But the lesson about milk really gets wild when Ms. Jersey shrinks the kids to molecule size. This is more than a tale of curds and whey and how to make cheese. It's about a "gouda" field trip.

Anna said, "I like reading the Scholastic science books in The Magic School Bus series and decided to model my story after that. One of the many things I found out is that there are cheeses for people like my mom who are lactose intolerant."

"Amy's School Garden"

Ciara Chiesa
7th grade, Gratton Elementary
Stanislaus County
Teacher: Rexann Jensen
Illustrated by Delta High School, Clarksburg

There's lots to do in both gardening and farming, and Amy learns it's a lot of hard work. But more than learning the value of cooperation and teamwork, Amy learns a valuable life lesson when she helps organize a vegetable and flower garden at her school. It's the kind of lesson that goes beyond books.

Ciara said, "I wrote the story based on our experience with restarting the garden at my school. A lot of people didn't normally eat a lot of vegetables, but then started eating them fresh from the garden when they were ready."

"Late Night Lambing"

Emma Morris
8th grade, Scott Valley Junior High
Siskiyou County
Teacher: Tracy Dickinson
Illustrated by Woodland High School, Woodland

A winter storm brings both beauty and danger for ranchers at lambing time. Young Emma goes out in the night to help her father with a ewe that's just birthed three lambs. In the barn, she must make a choice among the three newborns—to save them all, one will have to go into the house for hand-nursing.

Emma said, "I've raised lambs and thought the story contest was a chance to write about something I know well. But through my research, I learned a lot more about living on a ranch and how agriculture helps everyone."

How to enter the 2010 "Imagine this..." contest

California students in third through eighth grades are invited to enter original stories that explore agricultural themes in this year's "Imagine this..." Story Writing Contest.

Deadline for entries is Nov. 1, and students from public, private, charter and home schools are eligible to participate. Statewide winners receive a medal, a $100 savings bond and an expense-paid trip to Sacramento—and they will have their stories published in an illustrated book.

In addition, teachers of winning writers receive instructional resources for their classrooms.

For more information about the contest, visit www.LearnAboutAg.org/imaginethis or call 800-700-AITC.

Kate Campbell is a reporter for California Country. She can be reached at 800-698-FARM or kcampbell@californiacountry.org.


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