Q&A with Lisa Gaskalla

Lisa Gaskalla headshot

Name: Lisa Gaskalla 

Title: Executive Director, National Agriculture in the Classroom Organization (NAITCO) 

What is your background and how did you find your way into the ag industry? 

I have served as executive director of the National Agriculture in the Classroom Organization (NAITCO) for three years. Before that, I worked as executive director of Florida Agriculture in the Classroom for 13 years, Polk County Farm Bureau for four years, and Florida Citrus Mutual for two years. I’ve always valued farming and the people who work the land because my father was born and raised on a wheat farm in Kansas, which is still in the family. It has been my good fortune to work in the agriculture industry for the last 20-plus years, but I did not start out there. I received a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Florida and worked as a newspaper reporter in Florida for 13 years before going to work in the agriculture industry. 

Tell us a bit about NAITCO.

NAITCO is a non-profit, 501(c)3 organization that serves as the professional development group for Agriculture in the Classroom programs in most of the 50 states and three territories. It is the formal, Pre-K-12 classroom piece of the agriculture education pie in the U.S., with 4-H serving as the informal, after-school program piece, and FFA serving as the middle school and high school vocational and technical piece. It helps educate teachers and students about the importance of agriculture by using agricultural concepts to teach all the core subject areas with an online searchable database of hundreds of lessons, a national conference, a virtual national conference, a national teacher awards program, and professional development for the Agriculture in the Classroom state and territory programs. For more information about National Agriculture in the Classroom, please visit www.agclassroom.org.

Why is diversity important to you and to NAITCO? 

NAITCO’s strength lies in the geographic diversity of its network of Agriculture in the Classroom (AITC) programs in most of the 50 states and three territories of the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Collectively in 2019, we reached 87,000 teachers and 8.2 million students in pre-kindergarten through 12th grade with curricula and programs that use agriculture as the context to teach reading, writing, STEM, social studies, and other subject areas. To remain at the forefront of Pre-K-12 agricultural literacy and to continue to increase the number of teachers and students we reach, we want to make sure our educational resources and programs resonate with the teachers and students who use them. Toward this end, we have been working to include agricultural educational resources with diverse themes and people and identify education groups and other organizations to help us reach new audiences. We also hope they will provide input on educational resources, using an agricultural context of which we may not be aware, that demonstrate a diversity of topics, ideas, and people involved in this very important industry. 

What current diversity initiatives do you have planned or ongoing? 

NAITCO and its partner, the National Center for Agricultural Literacy (NCAL) at Utah State University, put together a list of educational books and resources called Celebrating Diversity in Children’s Agricultural Literature. The list includes diverse literature from the National Agricultural Literacy Curriculum Matrix recommended book collection. In addition, NAITCO recently began working with the Native American Agriculture Fund to establish an annual scholarship program to help teachers of Native American students around the country attend the National Agriculture in the Classroom conference to learn how to use agricultural concepts in their classroom instruction. We hope to identify and work with other similar groups that represent diverse teacher and student populations to help us reach those important audiences. 

In your opinion, what is the most exciting thing happening in the industry currently? 

Agriculture is growing quickly, largely because of technological advancements such as: 

  • robotic harvesting methods 
  • agriculture sensors tied to farmers’ phones that alert them when it is time to irrigate, fertilize, or treat their crops for pests and diseases 
  • aerial imaging that notifies farmers of problems in their fields 
  • electronic data analyzing software that allows farmers to manage their operations more efficiently 
  • global positioning systems that help farmers irrigate and apply fertilizer and other inputs to their crops more efficiently 
  • vertical farming, aquaponics, and hydroponics 
  • livestock activity monitors 
  • new seed varieties and more 

Supplying the agriculture industry with people who understand these technologies and can invent newer and better technologies to advance the industry is key, and National Agriculture in the Classroom and its Agriculture in the Classroom state program members strive to provide educational resources that introduce students to the wide variety of agricultural careers available to them. By reaching a wider, more diverse audience of teachers and students we will have a better chance of finding those talented individuals who can advance the agriculture industry even further to help feed a growing global population. 

What is your vision for the future of agriculture? 

The future is very bright for the agriculture industry because of the exciting advancements in food production and harvesting technologies that will help it continue to feed the world. Also, career opportunities will continue to grow with these new advancements and the ongoing need to produce enough food, fiber, and fuel to support everyone. National Agriculture in the Classroom and its Agriculture in the Classroom state and territory program members are committed to helping introduce students to the career possibilities in agriculture and we will work to expand our networks to reach even more teachers and students with this important outreach initiative. 

About Together We Grow

Together We Grow is an agribusiness consortium with members that include major agricultural commodities companies, educational institutions, government agencies, and others committed to improving and expanding diversity in agribusiness. The consortium sponsors research and provides a platform to share best practices for building future workforce capacity; it will have its permanent home at the Spur Hydro building. For more information, visit twg.csusystem.edu.

About Spur: CSU System at the National Western Center

Coming in 2022: CSU System will open Spur, where innovative ideas and unforgettable experiences come to life at the National Western Center. Spur’s three buildings at the center of the landmark project in north Denver will ignite and fuel new ideas around water, food, and health and their impact on our lives and our world. Spur is where learning is open and accessible to all. Where researchers tackle the world’s most pressing problems around water, food, and health. Where art and culture challenge and surround you. Where rural and urban, local and global intersect. Learn more at csuspur.org.