Students who attend classes at the Country Schoolhouse in Purvis do not have to wonder why math and science are important or puzzle over where their food comes from. Lauren Leggett and Susan Hartfield, the recipients of the 2021 Mississippi Farm Bureau Federation Teacher of the Year award, use an innovative and experiential teaching approach in their classes at the Country Schoolhouse allowing students to engage their minds and hands.

Leggett and her husband, Jed, started the Country Schoolhouse after inheriting Jed’s family farm in 2015. Hartfield came on board soon after. The Country Schoolhouse provides supplemental education to homeschooled students.

“Our program builds on the base students receive through the curriculum they already use at home,” Hartfield says.

Leggett saw the need for hands-on learning during her time teaching in a Mississippi public high school. The lack of knowledge of where food comes from motivated her to create a curriculum for students to learn about food and agriculture.

“It just became a passion of mine from that point on,” Leggett says.

Leggett and Hartfield are experienced educators, bringing a collective 26 years of experience to the table. The teaching duo help provide a one-of-a-kind experience for students.

“We ensure that students are actually seeing the application of their education,” Leggett says. “They learn how to physically measure something, how to divide land into equal parts for planting, and how to keep a chart and journal of seedling growth. Activities like these put into practice what they are learning and make it relevant.”

Exposing students to the life cycle on the farm is an important element of teaching them about agriculture and food.

“Last year, when the 4- and 5-year-olds pulled carrots out of the ground, you would have thought they had seen magic,” Hartfield says. “You’d be surprised at how many kids have no idea where a carrot comes from.”

The opportunity to see the full cycle extends to the livestock side of farming as well.

“I’m very blunt about this part because a lot of kids just have no idea where their food comes from,” Leggett says. “They don’t realize that those McDonald’s burgers they eat come from a cow. They just think cows are cute and fun, but don’t understand where meat comes from. There is just a huge disconnect for most kids about where their food and fiber come from.”

Being selected as the MFBF 2021 Teacher of the Year award recipients was an emotional experience for both teachers.

“Leaving traditional education meant no more Teacher of the Year, no more PTA gifts or Teacher Appreciation Week. You think that stuff is minor until you go without it and start to miss the support,” Leggett says. “When we won the award, it just really made me feel like we’ve done a good thing and people acknowledged this. This just is not some harebrained idea we had. It’s actually working, and it meant a lot to be recognized.”