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Students 'Beef Up' on reading

A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of reading my children's book, "Levi's Lost Calf" at the Doland Public School in eastern South Dakota. By invitation of Bailey Coats, the FFA advisor and agricultural teacher in Doland, I presented my story to ...

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Author and rancher Amanda Radke reads “Levi’s Lost Calf” to the students in Doland, S.D., as part of the “Beef Up Your Reading” challenge. (Photo by Bailey Coats)

A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of reading my children's book, "Levi's Lost Calf" at the Doland Public School in eastern South Dakota. By invitation of Bailey Coats, the FFA advisor and agricultural teacher in Doland, I presented my story to the elementary students, and I visited with the high school students about career development and pursuing their passions.
It was a great opportunity to speak to young people about my own career in agriculture while also sharing the story of cattle and how beef gets from pasture to plate.
My day in the classroom was held in conjunction with a new program launched in Doland this fall called, "Beef Up Your Reading," which challenges K-6 students to read more outside of the classroom.
With three levels to reach, as students read, they earn points to receive prizes such as beef jerky, gift certificates for cheeseburgers at the local cafe or $20 in Beef Bucks to be used to purchase beef at grocery stores or in a restaurant.
Sponsored by the Doland FFA Chapter, the South Dakota FFA Foundation and the South Dakota Cattlemen's Auxiliary, the program promotes healthy reading habits to enhance academic achievement, as well as the importance of eating nutritious, protein-rich beef to fuel students' busy days as they study in the classroom and participate in extracurricular activities.
"Our goal for implementing this program is two-fold: if parents encourage more reading at home, the students improve their reading skills and will achieve more in school," said Coats. "On the reciprocal, parents and kids are rewarded for reading more, which earns families free beef for nutritious meals at home!"
Agricultural education has always been a passion project of mine. That's why I wrote "Levi's Lost Calf" in 2011. Teaming up with illustrator and Minnesota cattle producer Michelle Weber was an amazing experience and allowed me to paint an accurate portrayal of life on a ranch.
Reading this story across the country has been an eye-opening experience for me, as well. From California to New York City, young people are so excited to not only meet a "real" author, but a cattle rancher, too. It's an opportunity for me to give these students a real behind-the-scenes look at agricultural life and the people who produce our nation's food. It's my goal to balance some of the inaccuracies and personifications about human/animal interactions that are presented in today's Disney movies, which I believe is where some of the disconnect between producers and consumers really begins.
What's more, there are 57,000+ agricultural jobs available each year with a large majority of these going unfilled. Teaching these kids that there is an abundance of opportunities in agriculture - from food science to engineering to journalism to education to biochemistry to range science and so much more - my hope is this will open their eyes to the world of agriculture and ways they might be able to pursue their own passions within this great industry.
It all starts with educators like Coats who are taking the initiative to bring agricultural-based curriculum to the classroom. I tip my hat to the Doland FFA Chapter, the South Dakota FFA Foundation and the South Dakota Cattlemen's Auxiliary for making the "Beef Up Your Reading" challenge possible! What an amazing way to promote beef nutrition, cattle production, agricultural literacy and more!
By the way, if you're interested in a copy of "Levi's Lost Calf," the book is available on Amazon. I'm excited to continue to share this story with new readers and even more excited to announce Weber and I will have a second book out this spring, just in time for National Ag Week! Stay tuned for updates!

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