Lincoln, Neb. —Some kids grow up on a farm and experience things like harvest season or raising a bottle calf, but not every kid has access to those experiences. Many often grow up without knowing about agriculture or how it affects their daily lives.
The University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s Jocelyn Bullock set out to change that and to connect kids from the city to agriculture through pizza.
Bullock, a North Omaha native and the coordinator for graduate student professional development in UNL’s College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources, was inspired by an pin given to her by a friend.
“The enamel pin was in the shape of a slice of pizza,” Bullock recalled. “I asked her why she gave me the pizza pin, and she said, ‘Who doesn't love pizza?’”
Later, another friend brought up an after-school program he worked for that incorporated STEM into the programming.
The idea flourished from there. Bullock contacted CASNR Dean Tiffany Heng-Moss to see if could partner with an Omaha after-school program. She then made the goal to connect kids of North Omaha, many of who come from backgrounds that have traditionally been underrepresented in the agriculture industry, to ag through pizza. She met Kathleen Lodl, Nebraska 4-H program administrator, who connected her to the Douglas County Extension office, and from there, the program became something real.
The event took place at the Hope Center on North 20th Street in Omaha during the month of June, with 30 students from 3rd to 5th grade participating.
With the help of colleagues including Sheryl Sierra, a gradute student studying small grains; Michael Richter, a graduate student in the Plant Pathology Department, and Brytany Gama, a UNL student who shared information on hydroponics, among others, students learned about the different aspects of agriculture – from crop production to dairy processing to food science -- that go into creating pizza. Bullock herself shared presentations on pollinators and meat science, and presented a cooking demonstration.
On the final day of the program, the students visited the Douglas County Extension Office kitchen to learn about meat processing and made pizzas for lunch.
There were plenty of learning moments along the way.
When they were learning about making the dough, the students tried two pieces of bread – one made with yeast and one made without.
“After trying the two pieces, one student shouted, ‘I don’t like this flat piece of bread!’ Bullock recalled. “Another student shouted from across the room, ‘That’s because it doesn’t have yeast in it! Yeast eats the sugar in the flour and makes the bread belch and that’s what makes bread taste good!’”
It was also rewarding to see the students experience new things. For example, none had ever been to a farm before, so Bullock organized a field trip to Beauty View Farm.
“The students were so excited to feed the cows!” Bullock said. “One student fed two cows that were next to each other. I saw him talking to them and he looked up at me and said, ‘I’m just really at peace when I’m petting animals.’"
Bullock and the other volunteers learned from the students, too.
“I’m in awe of how well the students respond to the lessons,” she said. “I wrote a rap song about bumble bees and got to share the chorus and the dance with the kids. It was so cute! It is heartwarming to hear them talk about the program. This has been an incredible experience for me and the other people who’ve come to share their knowledge with the students.”