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Agriculture Advocate Award 2010

Clara Wichert

Jill Jill is a North Dakota farm girl with a love for the land and ag education. Several years ago, she went to read a farm story at a local elementary school during Ag Week and realized that only three students in the class actually lived on a farm! This revelation lit a fire and Jill became very passionate about providing opportunities for students to experience agriculture and learn to value their food and fiber source. Together with a very talented educator/presenter, she developed a series of educational programs called The Regional Environmental Education Series, designed for classroom presentations. Six different programs teach students in K-6 about the early pioneers, natural resources, farming practices, conservation and other topics in a very entertaining and educational way. Jill developed partnerships with a host of organizations and agencies and began providing the lyceum style programs statewide, which are now in their 20th year. They are presented almost daily at schools across the state, totaling over 450 programs to nearly 30,000 students each year! For her work in developing these programs, Jill was recognized in 1994 by EPA Region VIII with an "Outstanding Achievement in Environmental Education" Award. In addition, Jill was recognized as the Northern Plains Region Soil Conservation District Outstanding Employee of the Year and was given a special award from the Foster County SCD for "Outstanding Personal Accomplishments, Dedication and Personal Service."

JillIn about 1987, Jill was instrumental in developing the first of its kind, day long field experience for students in ND, sponsored by USDA and the Soil Conservation Districts. Stations were set up for students to learn about soils, trees, range land, water and crops of North Dakota. Jill invited local farmers to bring their seed crops and present to the students, a challenge at first, but now one that many farmers look forward to being asked to do! This program also became a state wide project known as Eco-Ed, that continues today. For another educational effort, Jill formed a committee of individuals from USDA, University Extension, Farm Service Agency, Farm Credit Agencies, Banks, and the local chamber to develop and plan the first Women's Ag Day. This was an event to celebrate the contributions of women to agriculture and provide educational opportunities for them to use in their local schools. As a result of developing partnerships in educational outreach, a non-profit organization, the Coalition for Conservation and Environmental Education or C2E2 was formed for North Dakota. Jill became active with them and assisted in the development of state science and math educational standards to incorporate agriculture education for North Dakota.

In 1992, Jill was asked to serve on the committee for Project Food, Land and People (FLP), which today is the major curriculum utilized by North Dakota AITC for increasing agriculture awareness. Jill was part of the national development team that created the 55 lessons for PreK-12 that integrates into required core curriculum. FLP promotes approaches to learning that help students better understand the interrelationships among agriculture, the environment and people of the world, which is also the mission of ND AITC. Jill has been very influential in helping ND AITC further this mission.  Jill serves as a facilitator for teacher workshops where she provides hands-on ag related lessons such as creating a journal with paints from soil, creating stream tables to show connections with the environment and agriculture, and exploring the connection of culture and agriculture. As a result, more than 300 teachers and 3,000 students a year since 1998 have enjoyed ag related lessons on conservation, economics, food safety, nutrition, global trade, culture, etc.

Jill's passion for ag literacy led her to regularly attend meetings of the ND AITC Council. She utilized many of their materials and in 1993, Jill was officially appointed as a member. This council is a joint effort of several commodity groups, farm organizations and educators. Jill has implemented many of the goals of the group and is one of the longest serving, most effective members of the council. She has reviewed grants that have enhanced agriculture literacy, facilitated FLP educator workshops, assisted in matching ND state standards to FLP materials, reviewed new topics for three annual issues of AgMag for grades 3-5, and served on the creative team of the ND grant "Agriculture  Bridges many Cultures" from USDA/AITC. All of these efforts have peaked ag literacy to well over 15,000 students.

Marketplace for Kids, a program for young entrepreneurs' is an annual day long event where Jill again volunteers to present a fun, tactile ag lesson.  She provides each student with a crop or farm product on a card that gives a few details about the production and related careers. The students then become a "farmer" and are the "expert" on that commodity. As various food products are held up, such as chips, candy etc, she asks them if they think they need farmers to enjoy each item. She then has the "farmer students" who produces the crops from the product to stand and share the info on their card. The Living Ag Classroom, held each spring in this area, is another field trip activity for students. Jill is always eager to volunteer at the interactive booths that teach students about agriculture careers, commodities, animal agriculture, farm safety and soil. Nearly 2,000 students and 150 teachers attend this annual event. Each summer, the MidWest KidFest. is an event that reaches over 5,000 children, including  families. Originally lacking an agriculture connection, Jill volunteered to create an "Agriculture Village" that let children feel grains grown in the area, learn what foods are made from them and take a sample home to grow in their own gardens.  The Fargo-Moorhead Go Green Exposhares activities with thousands of youth and their parents during Earth Week. Jill participates and recruits farm organizations and commodity groups to participate to make sure that agriculture has a voice and is presented in a positive manner.

You are likely to see Jill roaming the halls of many state and national conferences, setting up presentations to promote ag literacy. She has presented numerous times within the state at various educational conferences, at the national level at AITC Conferences; FLP Conferences; the National Association of Soil Conservation Districts Annual Meeting; USDA Resource Conservation and Development Conference; and others. Jill is a tireless volunteer who does not wish for accolades. Instead she is the first to nominate a teacher who will ultimately win an award due to knowledge that teacher gained from Jill. It is easy to see why this year's Agriculture Advocate Award is Jill Vigesaa.


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