TIFTON—The buzz of children’s excited voices easily matched that of the bees inside the observation hive at the Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College Georgia Museum of Agriculture and Historic Village.
The observation beehive was one of the new additions to the Destination Ag program at the Museum during the 2018-19 year. It was also one of the favorite stations for the record 10,980 students who participated in the program in its third year of existence.
“Destination Ag had a great year,” Museum Director Garrett Boone said. “We have the nuts and bolts of the program in place, and now we’re concentrating on minute details that will provide the best possible fun, educational experience.”
Destination Ag allows school children an up-close and personal look at where their food, fiber, and shelter originate. This year, students from school systems in Brooks, Irwin, and Lowndes counties, as well as the Valdosta city school system, participated in the program for the first time. They joined pre-kindergarten through third grade students from Tift, Colquitt, Cook, and Berrien counties.
“It is vitally important to engage students with the importance of agriculture and natural resources at an early age,” Boone said. “Along with our partners, we are working hard to provide opportunities to increase the awareness on the critical role that agriculture and natural resources play in our everyday lives—from the food we eat, to the clothes we wear, to the house we live in.”
Thanks to an initial gift of $250,000 from the Harley Langdale, Jr. Foundation to the ABAC Foundation, Destination Ag began educating students in September 2016. In 2017, the Harley Langdale, Jr. Foundation committed $1 million over the next four years to continue the program. The generosity of the Harley Langdale, Jr. Foundation allows the Museum to provide Destination Ag programming at no cost to the visiting students.
“Industry partners are the cornerstones of Destination Ag,” Boone said. “We can’t say thank you enough to the Harley Langdale, Jr. Foundation, and our other partners who make this program possible.”
This year, the program’s partner additions included the Georgia Peanut Commission, the Georgia Pecan Growers Association, the Blueberry Growers Association, the Georgia Peach Council, Stripling’s General Store, and Pearson Farm.
Sixteen ABAC students taught at the Destination Ag learning stations, adjusting their Museum workload around their own ABAC classes.
“According to our surveys, the attitude toward agriculture is much more positive after the students participate in Destination Ag,” Boone said. “Besides our students on-site, we had 3,500 pre-k through 12th grade students participate in our off-site outreach programs.”
Destination Ag also added a pollinator garden, two Shetliot sheep, two new dairy goats, and Georgia’s state reptile, a gopher tortoise, this year.
“Our goal is to build upon what the students learn each year,” Boone said. “For some of these students, this was their third year attending the program. We get a little more in-depth as the students get older, and we increase their time at the various learning stations.”
Signage for the poultry, beef, and dairy industries was added this year. It proved to be particularly popular with the 1,500 adults who attended Destination Ag with the children.
“One of the things we realized early on was that there was a secondary audience composed of the adults who came with the children,” Boone said. “The adults really enjoyed seeing all the facts and figures on the industries that they utilize every day but often don’t really think about.”
Boone said fourth graders from the participating counties will be added to Destination Ag when the new school year begins. He said students from Turner County will also immerse themselves in the Destination Ag experience for the first time, elevating the expected number of children impacted by the program to over 21,000 for the 2019-20 year.
“We intend to make Destination Ag the premier ag literacy program in the country,” Boone said.