Bringing the farm to schoolchildren

Laboratory: A mobile classroom travels to Baltimore County middle schools, introducing agriculture to pupils.

May 26, 2000|By Lynn Anderson | Lynn Anderson,SUN STAFF

The scent of vanilla wafted through Baltimore County's new agriculture science laboratory yesterday.

Inside the mobile classroom, thought to be the first in the nation to introduce middle school pupils to farm products and careers, a group of seventh-graders made ice cream in plastic bags.

First, however, they had to tell their teacher where milk comes from: a dairy farm. And what kind of flower produces vanilla beans: an orchid.

Outside, members of the Baltimore County Farm Bureau and school system officials -- many of whom teamed up two years ago to create an agriculture program to supplement the science curriculum -- celebrated. Only five of the county's 24 high schools offer agriculture courses.

"When we started out, we wanted to make sure that courses about agriculture stayed in our schools," said Leslie Richardson, president of the Farm Bureau, which contributed about $15,000 to buy the trailer. The school system provided materials to furnish the interior and hired a teacher.

"Today, most people have no experience at all with farms or agriculture," said Richardson, who grows vegetables in White Marsh. "We want to make sure that children know that milk doesn't come from a carton or the cafeteria -- it comes from a cow."

Apparently, that lesson wasn't wasted on pupils at Dumbarton Middle School in Rodgers Forge yesterday. They know that dairy cows make the cream that goes into the ice cream.

As they mixed whole milk with sugar and vanilla, there was no shortage of giggles -- or spills.

"No messes," said teacher Susan Gottschalk, who travels the county in her classroom on wheels. Dumbarton is the fifth and last stop for the year.

But by the time Gottschalk had issued her warning, Sean Suggs and David Worthan, both 12, were already in cleanup mode.

Taking care to clean traces of the sticky stuff from between his fingers, David watched as Sean continued with the ice cream experiment.

With all the ingredients combined in a plastic bag, Sean placed the bag in a plastic bowl filled with ice and secured the lid.

Then the shaking began.

"I've made ice cream before, but never like this," said Jon Merlis, 13, from a nearby work station. As his mixture began to congeal, Jon and his partner, Jimmy Stamas, also 13, marveled at their accomplishment.

"I thought it might be boring to come to an agriculture class but this is a lot more fun than other classes," said Jon, who said he wants to be a financial adviser, not a botanist or forester, when he grows up.

Still, those are two of the jobs pupils who visit this classroom learn about. They discuss the many products made from corn, such as furniture varnish and paint, and create plastic from cornstarch, corn oil and water.

"I didn't know there were that many types of corn," said Nancy Hutson, 13, who did a bit of Internet research before the class.

Gottschalk, who has a background in horticulture, waited about a year for the job with the agriculture science laboratory in Baltimore County to open. She's enthusiastic about the ground-breaking endeavor, which will be expanded next year.

"When we talk about agriculture for the first time together, most students have no clue," said Gottschalk, who moves her mobile classroom to a new school every two weeks.

Prominently displayed over one door of Gottschalk's classroom is a lesson she and members of the Farm Bureau hope students will remember forever: "Agriculture is everywhere."

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