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Ross (1) and Rhett (3) Wiswall getting ready
for harvest in Franklin County.

Photo by Tara Wiswall

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FARMER'S TOOLBOX

West meets East in combine seat

October 2017
By Trista Crossley


Learning about wheat harvest in a classroom is much different than experiencing it from the field. Just ask Chris Cocklin-Ray, a fifth-grade teacher from Mercer Island, Wash.

Cocklin-Ray and her husband, Tom, spent part of their Labor Day weekend in Eastern Washington, riding shotgun with Washington Association of Wheat Growers’ Past President Kevin Klein as he harvested spring wheat at his family’s farm in Edwall. Cocklin-Ray’s classroom has been participating in the Franklin Conservation District’s popular Wheat Week program in which educators use a series of lessons to teach fourth- and fifth-graders about water, soil, watersheds, energy and wheat. Every year, the program reaches more than 25,000 students, many of them on the west side of the state. Wheat Week is primarily funded by the Washington Grain Commission.

“One of the things I felt was missing was the connection to the farmer,” Cocklin-Ray said. “They (the kids) are learning all this stuff about wheat, about ecology and about sustainability, but they haven’t learned anything about the reality of wheat farming or who the people are that do the work. I can’t bring them all on a field trip, but I can take them on a virtual field trip.”

While Cocklin-Ray was impressed with the machinery, it was Klein’s bank-out-wagon-driving son, Curtis, who impressed her the most.

“He’s 14 years old, driving this machine that’s lining up with that combine, and he’s doing it perfectly,” she explained. “He’s talked to me about what they are looking for (in terms of grain quality). He talked to me about the science behind it, and the mathematics behind figuring out how many bushels per acre. This is what I want to teach my kids.”

Another topic the educator is planning to introduce her students to because of the conversations she had with Klein is the farm bill. Beginning government is one of the subjects taught in the fifth-grade, and Cocklin-Ray said the farm bill is a good example of political negotiations and how important it is for politicians to get input from people whose lives are affected by legislation.

“I think as a teacher, I’m always looking for a way that I can include passion in what I tell them about. This is really easy to get passionate about. You just have to meet these people and make that connection,” she explained. “It’s pretty important to teach kids content, but it’s more important to teach them about relationships. We have a relationship with these guys (farmers) that we don’t ever even think about. That’s the passion I can take back to the classroom.”