On the Farm STEM Experience

By Johnson, Denise D. | Delta Kappa Gamma Bulletin, January 1, 2017 | Go to article overview

On the Farm STEM Experience


Johnson, Denise D., Delta Kappa Gamma Bulletin


While traveling along Highway 215 from the Memphis International Airport, I noticed that the rustic landscape of the highway accentuated with cherry trees and Bradford pear trees was quite a contrast from highways in my hometown of Houston, Texas. I glanced at my watch and then the letter that I had placed in my lap and quickly refocused on the purpose for the trip to Nashville, Tennessee. I had been selected to attend the On the Farm STEM Experience that was provided by the American Farm Bureau Foundation for Agriculture and funded by the Beef Checkoff Program.

This event was developed to provide science curriculum coordinators, STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, & Math) coordinators, and professional development leaders with real-world experiences connecting science to the beef industry. Before I go any further, it must be made transparent that both the beef industry and farm life are completely unfamiliar topics to me. Even though participants had been given an agenda prior to the event, I still had no idea of how connections would be made between STEM, beef production, and the science curriculum.

Day 1

We were presented with in-depth presentations on "Introduction to the Beef Industry" by Dr. Justin Rinehart; "Translating the STEM and Beef Connection into Student Learning" by Dr. Kris Elliott; and "Real-life Experiences with STEM and Beef " by a student from Nashville Metro Public Schools. My inexperience with much of the terminology used during the presentations served as a major barrier to comprehending many significant aspects of the beef industry. Thus, I spent the late hours of the first evening studying terms and concepts such as forage; cow-calf production; feedlot; feeder vs. stocker cattle; beef sustainability; optimal beef traits and productivity; auction yard; stockers; backgrounders, and others.

Day 2

We encountered a young, fourth-generation farmer of the Jay Head Farm and took a hayride to an area where his beef cattle are maintained. We learned that, on his more than 4,000 acres of farm land, he also grows and maintains tobacco, hay, soybeans, indigo, and other crops. We also observed diverse, highly engineered farm equipment used to plant and harvest crops as well as to maintain livestock. A key point obtained from this farmer was that profitability is an important factor in sustaining farm life.

Our next stop was at the Joe Elliot Farm. We learned that the registered Angus, a staple to this farm, are fed in the following order: mother's milk, grass and hay, and a high-fiber ration. Because Robert Elliott, the father of Joe and grandfather of William Elliot, maintained records on weaning weights, calving intervals, and unwanted outcomes, key factors were identified that contributed to raising healthier and more desirable registered Angus. Elliott placed his registered Angus in the University of Tennessee Beef Cattle Improvement Records Program and, over time, the Elliot family incorporated proven genetics, reproductive technology, and genomic-enhanced expected progeny differences [EPDs] into their beef-cattle management system. Today, Robert Elliot and Sons Angus Farm is considered to produce some of the highest-quality registered Angus beef cattle.

Day 2 ended with a presentation on the basics about beef and a cooking experience led by a nutritionist and a chef. Although I have always purchased beef, I never realized it is chock full of nutrients such as protein, iron, vitamins B6 and B12, niacin, riboflavin, zinc, phosphorus, choline, and selenium. Furthermore, whether conducted by the federal government or state government, an extensive and thorough process exists for inspection of beef. Beef grades are based on the amount of marbling that is present, and beef has a limited refrigerator and freezer timeframe. This point was well taken by me because, over the years, I have been consuming beef stored in my freezer far beyond 6 months. In a similar way, I was surprised to learn how varied are the cooking, tenderizing, and carving methods and temperatures for various cuts of beef. …

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