The Alaca Co., Tranquillity, Calif., has received a $5,000 grant from the Monsanto Fund to support Cotton’s Journey, an classroom curriculum created by the wife of a cotton farmer more than 18 years ago to educate teachers and students on how American cotton is an important part of their lives.

Janette Yribarren created Cotton’s Journey. It provides classroom resources to create a more agriculturally literate society that understands the importance and complexities of producing food and fiber for today’s world.

“There is a tremendous need for agricultural information in the classroom as our population gravitates to urban areas and leaves the reality of the farm behind. Agriculture affects the daily lives of every student through the food they eat and the clothes they wear,” she says. “An appreciation for the farmer and an awareness of the agriculture entities that produce these goods needs to remain constant for agriculture to thrive in the United States.

Students are educationally challenged with materials showing many ways cotton touches everyone’s life, everyday, everywhere and the opportunity to pass on that knowledge to their parents, she says.

The $5,000 grant will supplement and enrich classroom curriculum for a better understanding of how cotton is produced, processed and finally distributed into students’ daily lives, and stimulate learning through interesting and innovative “hands-on” activities.

Cotton’s Journey was first funded by California Cotton Incorporated state support committee in 1993 for use in California’s educational system. Updated in 1997, it has since gained national accreditation.

Yribarren created the curriculum when she grew frustrated that outside those actually farming the land, no one seemed to understand or appreciate what her family — what every farming family — provided to the nation and world.

“I was tired of all of the talk lamenting the fact that nobody seems to appreciate farmers. I am a cotton farmer, and my life depends on what we get paid for our cotton. My husband is a farmer and he’s a good person, and I want non-farmers to know that he’s just like them,” Yribarren says. “We’ve been farming for 35 years and counting. We are fighting regulations all of the time on the farm. If voters understood what we had to go through and understood that we are not hurting the environment, I believe they would be more sympathetic to us as an industry,” she says.

The Yribarrens’ son Jeff came back to the farm in 1997 with an ag business degree from Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo.

To set the record straight about farming and cotton, she set her mind on providing teachers with the tools needed to give our youngest citizens a basic understanding of who farmers are, what they do, and why they do it.

“If I can teach that teacher that we are her friend, then she’ll become our best spokesperson. Simple promotion creates animosity, because teachers are wary of advertising and they are suspicious of it. I’m interested instead in promoting cotton through education.”

She says, “We are teaching the core subjects using cotton as a vehicle. If you are teaching strictly about cotton you are simply advertising a product. You don’t really produce a loyal consumer through advertising; all you are producing is an impulse buyer. We want instead to make an investment in our children.”

What started out 16 years ago as simply providing teachers with cotton-based curriculum suggestions has turned into an information packed Web site, a complete teaching curriculum for elementary students in grades one through eight and a video teaching aid.

Yribarren uses cotton as a vehicle to teach the core subjects of reading, mathematics, science, social studies and history. “If I can set out by hitting at least two of those core subjects very heavy, then the program is a success,” she says. “With this program, both teachers and students learn about cotton.”

Each segment, or lesson plan, includes comprehension questions catered to each grade level. Her “field trip in a box” provides teachers with a 152-page teaching guide, as well as Pima and upland cotton bolls, samples of cotton plants in various growth stages, cottonseed with planting instructions, cottonseed oil, a poster, and a fiber dictionary.

The kit includes Cotton’s Journey video, which visually illustrates the history, production, and processing of cotton. The video is designed for use with the teaching curriculum, but it can also stand on its own for those teachers looking for a supplemental teaching aid.

“It’s been my experience that students who are introduced to Cotton’s Journey program are better informed on the cloth, food and by-products that originate from cotton,” says Yribarren. “They are much more appreciative of what farmers and agriculture provide for them.”

Yribarren’s “Cotton’s Journey field trip in a box” is available by calling 800-698-1888 or through Yribarren’s Web site at www.cottonsjourney.com. She has a companion Web site, CleverFarmer.com, which was created after the Cotton’s Journey Web site. It was added in response to repeated requests to write curriculum for other commodities from educators.

In awarding the Monsanto grant, Glenn Powell, account manager for Delta & Pine Land, Visalia, Calif., says “Monsanto is committed to supporting the communities where we do business.”

According to Carly Robinson, chairman of the legacy Delta & Pine Land charitable giving committee, the Cotton’s Journey program does a “tremendous job of educating communities about agriculture. The program’s classroom outreach is among the best in the industry, which is the reason for Delta & Pine Land’s long history of support. We are thrilled that Monsanto Fund is willing to continue that support”, says Robinson.