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Walt Bones, a former South Dakota agriculture secretary and farmer from Parker, S.D., is on the board of Ground Works-Midwest, and says its revamped Ag in the Classroom program is vital for making connections about agriculture with young minds. (Mikkel Pates / Forum News Service)

New South Dakota Ag in the Classroom program in 102 schools

PIERRE, S.D. — A new Ag in the Classroom program for South Dakota is taking off in its first year, available in 102 of the 150 school districts in the state.

Ground Works-Midwest, a nonprofit headquartered in Sioux Falls, had developed a program to help teachers create classroom gardens, and then healthy eating for kids, and saw an opportunity for Ag in the Classroom.

A previous state ag in the classroom program ended about two years ago.

Ground Works-Midwest has three major program areas — Teaching Garden, Youth Eating Smart, and Ag in the Classroom.

Tim Olsen, Ground Works-Midwest executive director, was in Pierre in early February informing Gov. Kristi Noem and others about the progress for the program that is available to 7,300 fourth-graders.

He said the approach is to let agriculture be a vehicle for teaching history, mathematics and language skills. “We wanted to make sure these kids had multiple experiences in agriculture, based on agricultural standards and agricultural literacy,” Olsen says.

Cindy Heidelberger Larson, associate director of GroundWorks / South Dakota Ag in the Classroom, says the new program hits on content standards for interdisciplinary areas such as social studies, science, mathematics and language arts.

Walt Bones, of Parker, S.D., a former state agriculture secretary and part of a multigenerational crop and livestock farm, is on the Ground Works-Midwest board.

Bones says the program has had sponsors and partners, but needs to double those efforts, including involving the governor's office.

“Active production agriculturists are 1 percent of the national population,” he says, but there are many support industries and career opportunities. “We want people to understand what’s going on in agriculture,” Bones says.