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Farm girl helps shape future of agriculture

Diana King, an Illinois native who is in her sixth year with the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences in Tifton, grew up in a diverse agriculture environment. Now she is influencing Georgia’s next generation of farmers. (Clint Thompson/UGA CAES)

Diana King, an Illinois native who is in her sixth year with the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences in Tifton, grew up in a diverse agriculture environment. Now she is influencing Georgia’s next generation of farmers. (Clint Thompson/UGA CAES)

TIFTON — A self-professed farm girl from Illinois is helping shape and mold future agriculture teachers at the University of Georgia.

“I’m a farm girl and I’ve always wanted to be an advocate for agriculture. Being a teacher educator is a way to take that to the nth degree, to be on the cutting edge of what’s new in agriculture as well as helping make that connection between our public school classrooms and what’s going on in university research,” said Diana King, an assistant professor at the UGA Tifton Campus.

Ag teachers cover various topics ranging from working on a lawnmower engine to growing plants in a greenhouse.

“It’s all relevant to potential careers students could go into,” King said.

King, who is in her sixth year with the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, grew up in a diverse agriculture environment. Her family raised hogs, cattle and chickens in Illinois, while also growing row crops and hay. She developed a passion for agriculture early in life, and it has continued ever since.

“I have an appreciation for what happens in agriculture every day,” King said. “My goal as a teacher educator is to instill in my students that their job is to create educated consumers of agriculture. Everybody should have a basic understanding of the ways food, fiber and natural resources impact our daily lives. I’ve seen it first hand. I grew up with it. The vast majority of people don’t have those same experiences. Ag teachers provide the best possible avenue to get that information out there.”

Disseminating that information involves not being afraid to tackle controversial issues. Topics like genetically-modified foods and organic production are not off limits in King’s classes. In her mind, she’s preparing future Ag teachers for the moments when they’ll have to discuss these subjects with their students.

That means sometimes reaching beyond Georgia’s state line and talking about the way farmers tend their crops, feed their families and make a living. These are the core topics in her World Agriculture class.

“That (class) really helped give me a perspective of not only what agriculture is like around the rest of the country but also gave me a perspective of agriculture from a global perspective,” said Michael Barnes, a former student of King’s who is now an Ag teacher at Lowndes High School in Valdosta. “She definitely helped with my perspective on agriculture from an outlook different than south Georgia.”

Brittaney Schwing, a former CAES student on the Tifton Campus and now an Ag teacher at Northeast Campus High School in Tifton, credits King and fellow UGA teacher Jason Peake for her development as an Ag educator.

“Dr. Peake and Dr. King were very influential throughout my time as a student at the University of Georgia,” Schwing said. “Now that I am in my own classroom, I appreciate their expertise in the field of agricultural education more than ever.”

She felt prepared when she walked into her classroom for her first day as an Ag teacher this August.

“They taught me the skills I would need in classroom management, technology integration, curriculum planning and so much more,” she said.

King’s classes involve research projects, both individual and group, as well as field trips. She and her students visit local grocery stores to track exactly where consumer products come from. This helps stress that products don’t magically appear in store freezers or on a shelf, she said. They were once planted and harvested by a farmer, sometimes locally. That’s the message King tries to drive home to her students.

“We are a population that lives in cities and towns,” King said. “We’re disconnected from our agrarian roots. It’s up to a very small number of people to bridge that gap and to help the general public develop an awareness of agriculture.”

Not all of King’s students become agricultural teachers, but many do. And that’s a good feeling, she said.

“It’s the greatest job in the world. You get to see that light bulb come on when something really clicks with them,” King said. “But this is so much more powerful to me because my students are going to take that new passion that was ignited, that new interest that was sparked and they’re going to spark that in so many others. They’re going to take that interest into their classrooms and engage a lot of other students with that new knowledge.”

For more information on agricultural education degrees at UGA, see the website www.alec.caes.uga.edu.

Clint Thompson is public relations coordiator for the University of Georgia, College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, Tifton campus.