Kathy Brintle has brought agriculture to the classroom at Gentry Middle School.
In her Career Explorations class, students have grown, nurtured and harvested food since the beginning of school in August. She strives to raise awareness in her students of agricultural careers and teaches them the connection between themselves – the consumer, and the source of their food, shelter, and clothing.
Brintle is a Kenan Fellow, a member of a leadership program for teachers in the areas of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). Kenan fellows are led to develop strong communication and advocacy skills. They are given opportunities to engage with other educators, community leaders, and policymakers to promote high-quality instruction in our schools. Today there are nearly 400 Kenan Fellows across North Carolina.
Brintle is the only middle school teacher in her Kenan Fellows cohort of five teachers and notes that Darrin Haywood, a world history teacher at East Surry High School, is also from Surry County. This particular cohort is focusing on agriculture and is sponsored by the USDA and Surry County Farm Bureau.
As a Kenan Fellow, Brintle spent her summer in internships. Her first experience was at NC State Prestage Department of Poultry Science. While there, Dr. Matt Koci led them in DNA research using Polymerase Chain Reaction procedures to improve poultry health.
Next, the cohort visited the NCSU Ag Institute, the only major college in North Carolina offering a two-year degree in agriculture. She learned that the institute offers camps and other experiences that help students become more familiar with the programs they offer.
While at NC STATE, Dr. Ben Reading of the Bio and Ag Engineering department demonstrated how they conduct fish studies to promote aquaculture – sustainable fishing.
Finally, at Bayer Crop Science Innovation Center in Morrisville, she participated in studies that focused on the resistance to pesticide treatment in soybeans. Each stage of the process from treating the seed, to sprouting the seed, then transferring the strongest plants to a greenhouse was observed. The successfully grown soybean plants are then used to produce future Seed Product.
One of the many purposes of Brintle’s Kenan internships is to make people aware of the career opportunities in agriculture that are available to them. Another is to see how large-scale research affects the livelihoods of our farmers and consumers at home.
Many people are not aware that Surry County agriculture industries include chicken and beef farms, grain and beans, nursery and floral, fruits and vegetables as well as agrotourism and vineyards.
Brintle adds that she has enjoyed her experiences with local agrotourism such as Miss Angel’s Farm that features pick your own fruit orchards and family outings, and The Farm, whose produce can be bought locally or commercially and is also an entertainment venue in the Copeland community.
Other examples are the Barking Coyote in Elkin that specialized in field to table make and take classes, and JEEM Farms in Pinnacle which only raises tomatoes and sells them locally and commercially.
The Surry County Farmers’ Market shows the variety of agricultural products available the local community and positively affects the income base of the agriculturalists.
Over the year, Brintle has brought her experiences back to Gentry Middle School. Additional plans are to make the school grounds more inviting for students, staff, and visitors by hanging plant baskets along the entrances and other general landscaping.
The overall appearance of the grounds will improve when soil and water quality are tended. Students will be making a greenhouse and generally be learning about the experiences of a landscaper.
Students are also being taught how to efficiently produce their own food. Whether they want to be a large scale farmer or not, the goal is to be personally self-sufficient. Since the average age of farmers is 57, Brintle wants her students to think about who is going to feed society in the future
All the work Brintle does with her students leads into the Future Farmers of America (FFA) program at the high school level. As a way of educating the community, the Kenan Fellows Program is coordinating with the Mayberry Farm Fest committee to involve the North Surry High School FFA in showcasing agricultural history and opportunities in our local communities.
FFA members will sponsor a booth where they will interact with the public, explaining what they are learning and how they impact the community they reside.
In order to accomplish all her goals and support her continued efforts with students in her classroom, Brintle has applied for and has received two grants.
As part of the curriculum for her Career Explorations class, she has designed a student-centered project called Sustainable Living Through Science. This project helped her win the 2017 Mini-Grant from SCS Education Foundation.
More recently, she applied for and won the Going Local Grant from NC Farm Bureau to continue the agriculture exploration with the addition of a plant nursery and landscaping studies the within her classroom.