Cover Story

Cookbook Supports 

Classroom Connection

by Laura Hickey, Associate Editor

It’s still dark outside as a Virginia dairy farmer gets out of bed for what has become his early morning ritual — milking and feeding the cows, a task done up to three times a day.  

Miles away and hours later, a young child sits down for breakfast with his family and floods his morning cereal with cold, fresh milk, then enjoys a separate glass of the white liquid — with little or no idea of the work that went into making it possible for his parents to purchase that gallon of milk at the local supermarket ...

This is where The Virginia Foundation for Agriculture in the Classroom comes into the picture. Agriculture in the Classroom (AITC) encourages, through education, an awareness and understanding of the importance of agriculture, enhancing the quality of life and economic well being of all Virginians. According to AITC’s promotional material, “As generations of Virginians become further removed from their agrarian roots, fewer understand agriculture’s importance. Increasingly, people with limited knowledge and background are determining agricultural policy, which is affecting the industry’s success and possibly survival.”

Virginia’s AITC program started in 1987 when information about the industry was first made available to teachers. Then, in 1992, the Virginia Farm Bureau recognized AITC’s potential as an agricultural outreach mechanism and employed a handful of individuals to coordinate the program.

The AITC program, designed for teachers of kindergarten through fifth grade, provides hands-on activities, grade-level-specific lessons, and information about Virginia agriculture through orientations and workshops conducted at schools around the state of Virginia. The program is aligned with the Virginia Standards of Learning (SOL). The workshops are conducted free of charge due to the generosity of individuals, companies, and grants. AITC enjoys broad support from a variety of private, government and business entities, including Old Dominion Electric Cooperative.

AITC also gets involved in fundraisers in order to generate additional funds. The foundation’s current fundraiser is The Best of Virginia Farms Cookbook & Tour Book, written by CiCi Williamson and co-published by Menasha Ridge Press and CI Publishing. There are four publishing partners involved in the fundraising project: Virginia Tourism Corporation, Virginia Department of Agriculture, Virginia Farm Bureau, and WHR-TV in Hampton Roads. Martha Steger, of the Virginia Tourism Corporation, says, “It’s been an exciting project to work on. The cookbook contains a wealth of good resources for consumers. There are stories behind the recipes, family stories and interviews, tours, and interesting anecdotes.”

The 308-page cookbook, being sold for $24.95, captures the intimate relationship between the state’s agriculture and overall identity with interviews, tours, sidebars, essays, and recipes, along with unique illustrations and maps. According to the publisher, the book promises to “enrich the spirit and tap into the traditions and mystique that surround farming in Virginia and celebrate the family bonds and rugged individuality of family life.”

Flipping through the cookbook, the recipes are reminiscent of good old Southern home cooking. Whatever tantalizes your palate — be it Meadow Creek Dairy’s Cheese Bread or Snap Beans With Smithfield Ham and Peanuts — the cookbook features recipes of a local flavor, and a little something for everyone. Nothing epitomizes Southern cooking like chicken and dumplings, spoonbread, collard greens, bread pudding, candied yams, pecan pie, hush puppies, fried chicken, Brunswick stew, and deep-fried catfish.

Also featured are recipes from well-known dining establishments (such as The Jefferson Hotel, The Ivy Inn, The Tobacco Company, Miller & Rhoads, Martha Washington Inn, and Colonial Gardens) for everything from Williamsburg Inn’s signature decadent crème brulee to Crab House’s quintessential crab cakes. There are also a few family favorites from the personal cookbooks of famous people — among them are President George W. Bush’s oven-roasted brisket, President James Monroe’s chicken gumbo, Willard Scott’s country pork sausage, Senator George Allen’s lasagna, Dolley Madison’s peppermint ice cream, and President Woodrow Wilson’s lemon cake.

Karen Davis, executive director of Agriculture in the Classroom, with a copy of The Best of Virginia Farms Cookbook & Tour Book.

Karen Davis, executive director of AITC, says, “We’re very excited about this fundraiser. It’s a beautiful cookbook and a portion of the proceeds go toward promoting agriculture in Virginia’s classrooms.” According to Davis, this year she expects 800-850 teachers will use the AITC program, the average for the past four years. “We’ve never had a school system say it wasn’t worthwhile. We try to reach as many people as possible with our message, and it’s a lot easier with the support we get from county farm bureaus and women’s committees,” she says.

AITC consists of three full-time employees — Davis, executive director; Wendy Strong, program coordinator; and Roberta Via, administrative assistant. “When giving workshops, we go from Accomack County to Lee County, and hopefully not in the same year — although, we have done that,” Davis says, with a laugh. Wendy Strong, program coordinator, plays a key role in the program; she goes out and administers the program through orientations and workshops. “Wendy taught school for 13 years as an elementary school teacher in Louisa County public schools before she came to AITC, so she knows the challenges that teachers face in classrooms today. She does a great job working with teachers, because she’s been there herself,” explains Davis.

To get your copy of The Best of Virginia Farms Cookbook & Tour Book for $24.95, call 1-800-553-8970. Or, for more information on Virginia Foundation for Agriculture in the Classroom, contact Karen Davis at (804) 290-1142 or visit their Web site at www.vafb.com.

 

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