Recognizing Leadership

Wisconsin Ag in the Classroom 2022 Outstanding Teacher — Jessica Rettler, Tri-County Elementary



I think it’s fair to say that for many rural communities, agriculture is part of our identity, culture, and history. Teachers who embrace that, bring in concepts of agriculture into their classrooms. Wisconsin Ag in the Classroom supports educators who desire to teach concepts through an agricultural lens through resources, grant funding, and recognition. Each year, they recognize one educator as the Outstanding Educator of the Year for their efforts in teaching students the importance of Agriculture while integrating Agriculture concepts across the curriculum. In this interview, you are meeting Jessica Rettler, the 2022 Wisconsin Ag in the Classroom Outstanding Educator of the Year. Listen close! She’s going to drop all sorts of ideas. Even if you’re not from Waushara county, you can still glean all sorts of ideas to apply to your own community.

Teaching/Connection Ideas Mentioned by Jessica:

  1. Bringing in produce for school lunch
  2. Ag in the Classroom Curriculum
  3. Ag in the Classroom Essay Contest
  4. Farming for the Future Foundation
  5. Little Fred Parodies
  6. Peterson Brothers Videos
  7. Into the Outdoors Videos
  8. Kids Dig Wisconsin Potatoes
  9. Spud Mobile

Field trips / Guests:

  1. Heartland Farms
  2. Alice in Dairyland
  3. Flyte Family Farm
  4. Wysocki Produce
  5. Food + Farm Discovery Center
  6. Farm Wisconsin Discovery Center

If you’re interested in learning more about the Wisconsin Ag in the Classroom 2023 Essay contest, visit It’s open to all 4th & 5th grade students. Entries are due to your county coordinator by April 1st, 2023.

Transcript of Interview:

[Brogley] Wisconsin Ag in the Classroom, a program funded by Wisconsin Farm Bureau, recognizes a Wisconsin teacher or teaching team for their achievements in teaching students the importance of agriculture while integrating agricultural concepts across the curriculum. Wisconsin agriculture is a significant contributor to the state’s economy, generating billions of dollars in revenue each year through the production of crops and dairy products. It also provides employment opportunities for a large number of people, particularly in rural areas. Wisconsin agriculture is vital in feeding the state’s population and meeting the growing demand for food in other places. And of course, it plays a crucial role in preserving the state’s natural resources, such as soil and water, through sustainable farming practices. For many rural communities, agriculture is the backbone of the community with roots several generations deep.  

I want to replay a short clip from an interview a few years back I did with beloved Wisconsin Author, Jerry Apps. We were talking about how most people in rural Wisconsin are connected to farming in some way.  Here’s what he said about our historical and cultural connection to agriculture. 

[Apps] We have our roots, and this maybe sounds a little strange, but we all have our roots, our background in the land. We only have to go back, I don’t know, two or three or four generations depending on your age. And there’s a farmer there and that farmer was the foundation for who you are today. Not always. There are some exceptions, but by and large a huge part of our population has that kind of direct and something more and more indirect relationship to the land, 

[Brogley] I think it’s fair to say that for many rural communities, agriculture is part of our identity, culture, and history. Teachers who embrace that, bring in concepts of agriculture into their classrooms. Wisconsin Ag in the Classroom supports educators who desire to teach concepts through an agricultural lens through resources, grant funding, and recognition. Each year, they recognize one educator as the Outstanding Educator of the Year for their efforts in teaching students the importance of Agriculture while integrating Agriculture concepts across the curriculum. 

[Brogley] Jessica, thank you for taking time to speak with me today. First, let’s talk about who you are and what you do in the district. 

Jessica Rettler, Tri-County Elementary, Plainfield, Wisconsin
Jessica Rettler, Tri-County Elementary, Plainfield, Wisconsin

[Rettler] Well, I’m a farm girl, farm girl at heart. And I’ll tell a little bit more about my story later. Now that I’m married, we live a little bit off of the farm, but not too far away from Flyte family farm is where I grew up. And so here at tri-county, which is just 20 minutes north on the highway. I’m a fourth-grade teacher and a varsity volleyball coach 

[Brogley] So geographically speaking, where is Tri-county? 

[Rettler] So tri-county, we are made up of Adams, Portage, and Waushara County predominantly with additions of open enrollment. But on our hand, and I’ll talk about that in a little bit, but we’re right in the center of that Wisconsin palm, We’re just south of Stevens Point about 25 minutes. And north of Portage, about an hour. 

Tri-County Elementary
Tri-County Elementary

[Brogley] What’s the community like? 

[Rettler] Community is rural, and we have a lot of agribusinesses that we talk a lot about that in the classroom and we make those connections for students and families. My parents could, you know, be a banker in town or out of town or the farm help is of course probably most widely known as in the agriculture world. We have many chemical and fertilizer companies right here within Plainfield. We have, or in the neighboring area, we have an active feed mill. So we have, you know, lots and lots of great resources that the kids can connect with the different parts of Wisconsin agriculture. 

[Brogley] So you recently won the Wisconsin Ag in the Classroom Outstanding Educator award. That’s huge. What is winning that award mean to you? 

[Rettler] I think the biggest thing for me is the legacy that’s behind who I am. So I’ve always wanted to be a teacher and follow in the footsteps of my mom and my grandma. So third generation family of teachers and piggybacking off that, our intergenerational family farm that my parents started, grandparents from there, but the specific Flyte family farm with the vegetable portion, is my mom and dad’s doing. From early on I knew I would want to meld that into, well, just naturally who I am and carry that into the classroom. And in later years, I had my eyes set on that. 4th grade would be the ideal age. And it just fits so well with Wisconsin agriculture, teaching Wisconsin history, fitting that in, and providing all of those experiences that I’ve had or not all of the experiences, but sharing my story. I’m honored to have received this award and like I said, to kind of not just me, but on behalf of those that have shaped my history, my past, and helped me instill the same love of land, love of the world that we live into students and athletes. 

[Brogley] It sounds like you do a great job shaping that, you know, agriculture, education and advocacy and spirit into your classroom. How do you do that? How are you integrating agricultural education into your classroom?

[Rettler] One of the things that I do and our school has supported for many years is to bring in our fresh vegetables and fruits from the family farm. And so the kids will see me in August, at the start of school, or the staff breakfast welcome back carrying in totes of watermelon, the basics to make, like, a salad bar, things like that. Peppers, cucumbers, tomatoes, the onions. But in more recent years, now our kitchen chief, I guess, he purchases sweet corn, gunny sacks of sweet corn and we tried different recipes and included that in goulashes. Corn on the cob and different things that I can bring squash, different types of squash. And so he has put those into their lunches. And so the kids will see me or even help me early morning if they’re here, you know, prior to the buses or whatever help you, “Mrs. Rettler can I help you get that down to the cafeteria!” and then we drop it off when we come around for milk break, the totes, will be sitting out there and the kids are like, “Ohh, Mrs. Rettler”, you know, “can you fill this with yellow watermelon? We’d really like to try the yellow watermelon.” So not only do they get it in their lunch, but then they also get it we’re part of the fresh fruits and vegetable program grant. And so Tuesdays through Thursdays, every now and then, they’ll get something fresh off the farm, too. [The kids ask, “And is this from your farm?” Yes, it is. And then we talk about all the great things. So yeah. So that’s one of the great stories that I get to share and the kids see me living, you know, the best that you can. We also have a vegetable stand here Plainfield. And so a lot of times the students will say, “oh, I went down and we bought sweet corn, we bought cabbage and we turned it into coleslaw”, different things. So they make those connections with me through that. As far as into the classroom, I’ve written many…in earlier years, I wrote my own lessons, but now I get to borrow from Ag in the Classroom curriculums. Most recently I have worked with the Farming for the Future Foundation, which is a partnership with Heartland Farms. I’ve helped pilot edit their lessons and implement. And so it’s wonderful because they are doing all the work behind the scenes and I get to take it and share it with the students. So that has really been a lot of fun and a lot of learning, for me as well and sharing, and so one of the other things I love the, I think there’s there parodies, the little Fred, farmer and also the Peterson Brothers. They have a parody that I share and when I am cautious about when I share that because it’s so exciting. They beg for more, which is great. But yeah, we share that more toward spring. Just cause the excitement and it’s great, but I only have so many to share. I also use Into the Outdoors, wonderful videos that are created in Wisconsin. Yes. And so we actually had a segment it, it was many years ago, but it was the local farm potato farm Wysocki and Coloma Farms featured so and I know Andy very well growing up in the area. So that was exciting and I always still, I still use that one cranberries, things like that. We also participate in kids dig Wisconsin potatoes, so through through, excuse me, the Wisconsin vegetable and potato auxiliary. They promote and provide the seed and Heartland farms many, many years ago gave us, I would call it a terrarium, but a clear container that’s much larger than just a pot so the kids can actually see the root system. And watch the potatoes develop and then we have a harvest party in the spring. So we have a potato on a spoon and gunny sack relay races and we dig the potatoes and after that, we have one sacred T-shirt that has the class winner’s name on it between the two fourth grades such as the friendly competition and watching the potatoes grow. 

[Brogley] Let’s take a quick break to learn about this year’s Wisconsin Ag in the classroom essay contest, and when we return, we’ll pick back up with field trips that Jessica takes her students on. 

[Commercial Break]

Both: Hey, I’m Tessa Riley and I’m Ben Ehlert. 

Tessa: We are future teachers in the school of education at UW-Platteville with a message to all 4th or 5th-grade teachers in Wisconsin.

Ben: That’s right. All 4th and 5th-grade students are eligible to enter the 2023 Wisconsin Ag in the Classroom informative essay contest. It’s called “You’re gonna need milk for that – Wisconsin Dairy fuels our bodies, communities, and economy.”

Tessa: Essay length maximums are 400 words for 4th grade and 500 words for 5th grade, and need to include at least 3 references to Wisconsin as supporting evidence. 

Ben: Here’s the cool part – you can create your own writing prompts. Maybe you could encourage kids to write about why kids need milk to fuel strong bodies. Or why are dairy farmers an important part of our local economy? Or even why is the dairy industry an important industry to Wisconsin’s overall economy? 

Tessa: Great ideas! Refer to Wisconsin 3 times and include stats, facts, examples et cetera. And you can even use the book “Tales of a Dairy Godmother” by Ward Jenkins to kick it all off!

Ben: You can learn more about the contest by visiting Wisconsin Ag in the Classroom online or looking in the show notes of this episode for a direct link. 

Tessa: Entries are due to your county coordinator by April 1st. Celebrate Wisconsin Agriculture and improve your students’ writing skills! Check out the Wisconsin Ag in the Classroom writing contest! 

[Return to the Episode]

[Rettler] We have lots and lots of field trips that we participate in whether it be going out to Heartland Farms. My husband had created a replica of a small irrigation system when he worked there, and so that’s still there for training purposes and for tours student groups, but we get to see the technology that’s used on their farm. We’ve gone to Wysocki produce and Paragon farms in the past and watched them from working with potatoes, the X-ray machine, and how that all works. So that the kids get a good idea of potatoes from the packing facility to their table and the different types of potatoes. We work with the University of Wisconsin Hancock agriculture station. They plant pumpkins as third graders and we go out as fourth graders and harvest the pumpkins. We take them to the Flyte family farm fieldstones fall festive place where we do the corn maze and the corn pit, the hay maze and have fun and just have team building but also talk a little bit about fall agriculture and see some harvest of cabbage and potatoes and soybeans on the way out, so just melding that all together. We had Alice Dairyland here the other day, so we got to go on the expedition with her and talk about Wisconsin soils, so. 

[Brogley] It sounds awesome. Just so many opportunities for you to connect kids with concepts and agriculture, but also what makes your place unique? You know, community assets, right? But also Wisconsin’s vibrant agricultural, you know, economy. It’s awesome. So how do your kids react to these efforts? 

[Rettler] They love it. They beg for more. They, you know, and, and I have many former students that’ll come back and say, hey, I remember when or how are you doing the potatoes again this year? And, you know, did anybody come in and call them tomatoes? Because we have to steak them. They’re in the classroom and they do look, you know, being in the same family. So, you know, it’s just, yeah. So no, we’re not growing tomatoes. We’re growing potatoes, but the kids come back. So, I mean that tells me that I’m, you know, play an important role in their Agriculture, education, but just again as you’ve said, the connections and that’s I think the biggest piece for me and that’s who I am, is just making connections with people and enjoying the great things of life that provides. 

[Brogley] Alright. So we’re heading into the New Year and spring is right around the corner. Lots of chaos to approach soon. What’s on, what’s on the docket for 2023 classroom? Any spring projects?

[Rettler] I am. I’m going to partner again with Farming for the Future Foundation. They have offering some new STEM kits. I’m really excited. I’ve never really done any of those. and some literacy kits and I’m really excited to have some updated breakout boxes that they have created. We’ve done breakout boxes through previous librarian here at tri-county and I’m excited to use and have that agricultural twist to it. So and where do you get those from? That’s from Farming for the Future Foundation, the division of Heartland Farms. 

[Brogley] Nice. 

[Rettler] So yeah and they’re actually opening their food plus Farm Discovery Center. I think it’s and that’s one of those future field trips. I don’t know that we’ll get there this spring, but that’s in Plover, and so I’ve been watching when I go and pick up groceries and things like that or you know had north off of the interstate there. They’re doing a lot of work to try and get that open, so I’m pretty excited about that. Not only has working with them and the curriculum and bringing it into the classroom, but they afforded our family an opportunity to actually be videoed for some of the displays that will be happening there along with some other intergenerational farms that are in our area. So we’re pretty excited to see some of that footage.

[Brogley] What advice would you give a teacher who did not grow up on a farm, who might not feel so confident with their own agricultural background, knowledge, and experience? What can they do to bring more agricultural education into their classroom and pay respect, really, to the Community assets in their neighborhood? What can they do? 

[Rettler] Sure. So if you’re just getting into teaching or want to add that agriculture information for students, there are lots of places to go and a lot of things that are just ready to implement. So whether it be Farming for the Future Foundation and their curriculum that they’re working diligently on to get out to a multitude of age levels. They have those, I would say Into the Classroom too for the video aspect. That’s very appropriate for 4th grade and a little beyond, maybe a little earlier in the grades with lots of different topics, just that exposure. Teaming with Farm Bureau, Wisconsin Farm Bureau, so I haven’t mentioned that we have participated annually in their Ag in the Classroom essay, themed essay contest. Our youngest daughter was a district and state winner in 2021. So that was pretty exciting. So there’s that opportunity that happens here and is due like April 1st, but also whether it be the potato and Vegetable Growers Association. They have the spud mobile. They have different opportunities. There’s an agriculture booklet that I believe is still being produced through the Wisconsin Farm Bureau. So a lot of times it is just trying to, I guess, connect with the right person that can get you that information. But the website starting out with Wisconsin Farm Bureau Ag in the classroom can get you those resource links and maybe get you started. If not, contact me and I’ll do what I can. 

[Brogley] Sounds good. So this episode is definitely going to be packed with a lot of resources and links because you just shared out. Probably two dozen things that teachers could look at. So I appreciate that tremendously. Thank you for your time and congratulations on your award. Thank you so much.