Valerie Murbarger

Teacher Valerie Murbarger helps one of her second-grade students at Albion Grade School measure oil to make a classroom snack for a farmer appreciation activity. Illinois Agriculture in the Classroom named Murbarger its Teacher of the Year. (Photo by Rebecca Perry, Edwards County Farm Bureau manager)

Valerie Murbarger’s second graders learn firsthand some of the work required to supply their food on “Thank a Farmer Friday.” Instilling gratitude for farm food sources is among the reasons Illinois Agriculture in the Classroom (IAITC) named Murbarger the Teacher of the Year.

The teacher at Albion Grade School in Edwards County was recently surprised with an award presentation in front of her class. In December, she will be recognized during the Illinois Farm Bureau Annual Meeting in Chicago.

Having grown up on a small farm, Murbarger understands the value for her nonfarm elementary students to learn the process that takes crops and livestock from farms to their plates. Although it’s a rural area, most of her students live in town and their only link to farming is seeing a combine or a tractor, the teacher pointed out.

“My main thought was to have them appreciate where their food comes from. They might just think, ‘My mom goes to the grocery store,’” Murbarger explained.

Throughout the year, her students learn about a commodity, its source and how it is processed, packaged and shipped to consumers. They incorporate that ingredient into a recipe and prepare a snack for the whole class, using math, reading and science. Recently, the 24 second graders learned how to snap and cook two gallons of fresh green beans and gave their teacher rave reviews for a vegetable snack.

Murbarger admitted she’s also learned about the source of some recipe ingredients along with some farmer friends who attend her church and helped answer questions. One farmer told her, “I’m so proud of you, Valerie. You do a good job.”

Edwards County Farm Bureau Manager Rebecca Perry shared that Murbarger uses IAITC materials and lessons continuously and “has integrated IAITC into her curriculum throughout her teaching career.” For example, Murbarger increased the number of ag-related books in her role as a reading teacher at another grade school. Murbarger increased her own knowledge by participating in several IAITC Summer Ag Institutes and attended National Agriculture in the Classroom conferences.

Learning about agriculture “gives them a better understanding and makes them more aware of their surroundings,” Murbarger said of her young students.

In a recommendation letter, Edwards County High School Agriculture Instructor Michelle Wiseman praised Murbarger for working with high school ag students on projects ranging from reading to safety lessons. “She utilizes every method she can find to expose her second-grade students to all aspects of agriculture,” Wiseman wrote.

Murbarger will receive a trip to the 2022 National Agriculture in the Classroom Conference in Saratoga Springs, New York, and represent Illinois in the USDA National Excellence in Teaching Agriculture Award contest.

The runner up for Teacher of the Year is Eva Manzke, a third-grade teacher at Walker Elementary School in the Summit School District, Bedford Park, Cook County. From urban agriculture and hydroponics to livestock and crop production, Manzke finds unique ways to integrate agriculture into classroom lessons.

As runner up, Manzke will be the Illinois nominee for the 2022 American Farm Bureau Foundation for Agriculture White-Reinhardt Scholarship.