In Tiffany Kortbein’s kindergarten class at Greenvale Park Elementary in Northfield, students learn about agriculture alongside how to read and write and line up for the lunchroom.
That’s part of the reason why Kortbein was named the 2020 Minnesota Agriculture in the Classroom Outstanding Teacher of the Year award.
Kortbein grew up on a dairy farm in Dundas, near Northfield. She said teaching kindergartners about agriculture is “actually really easy to do,” and she’s able to incorporate lessons in with the math and language arts standards.
Her students learn about the life cycle while watching chicks hatch from eggs, a yearly event that draws curious former students back to peek in on peeping chicks.
She also seizes on teachable moments as they happen.
“Yesterday at breakfast one of the kindergartners said he liked bacon, and then another student had said 'well, that comes from a pig,'" Kortbein recalled. "And then there was this whole conversation — 'no, it's not pink, it can't come from a pig!' And I had this wonderful quick, five-second conversation about different foods that come from a pig, right there at breakfast.”
Kortbein said her students come from a variety of backgrounds, including a few who live on farms. She values the opportunity to help students think about where their food comes from at an early age.
“These are our future congressmen and women,” she said of her kindergartners. “These are our future farmers, voters and community members. These are the people that are going to be leading our communities someday, and I have that chance starting so young to teach these children so that way they understand and they have the correct information. Food doesn't just come from the grocery store.”
Kortbein organizes a school-wide farm day, which brings every grade outside to interact with farm animals, farm equipment, and the local FFA.
“I just approached my principal one day and said, ‘This is crazy, but I would love to bring the whole school outside for a day of agriculture.' And we wrote up a curriculum plan so it ties right into Minnesota state standards,” she said.
Kortbein said she’s found a number of local partners who volunteer their time. Past visitors have included Pollinate Minnesota and Princess Kay of the Milky Way. And Kortbein said she’s had the opportunity to train other teachers in her school on incorporating agriculture into the classroom.