MTSU creates ‘Virtual Farm’ with USDA funding to e...

MTSU creates ‘Virtual Farm’ with USDA funding to educate kids during pandemic

Virtual Farm 2021-graphic

If youngsters can’t go to the farm during the COVID-19 pandemic, MTSU will help take the farm to the youngsters. 

The university’s Center for Health and Human Services has received an $816,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to support the proposed “STEMsational Ag: The Virtual Farm” project.

Cynthia Chafin, associate director for community programs, Center for Health and Human Services interim director

Cynthia Chafin

Center for Health and Human Services logoThe grant comes from USDA’s Rapid Response to Novel Coronavirus (SARS-COV-2) and is appropriate for traditional school settings, both in-person and distance instruction, as well as for homeschooling. Students will learn about agriculture and topics related to STEM, an acronym for the disciplines of science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

In partnership with the School of Agriculture’s Fermentation Science Program, the center will administer the project as a way to provide both formal and informal educational content for K-14 students throughout an 11-state region.

“We are excited to serve as the lead for an 11-state area which will take advantage of this program,” said Cynthia Chafin, CCHS associate director of community programs.

School of Agriculture logo“Through educational content and interactive activities, not only will children learn about agriculture and STEM-related topics,” said Chafin. “They may also start thinking about careers in agriculture. The content also supports good health and healthy living, which is a good fit with the CHHS mission.”

“STEMsational Ag: The Virtual Farm” includes modules and audio-visual resources that are tailored to each grade level and projects and assignments tailored to specific age groups. It empowers both formal and informal educators in their interactions with students, and it includes delivery options regardless of access to technology.

Dr Tony Johnston, School of Agriculture

Dr. Tony Johnston

Dr. Keely O'Brien, assistant professor, School of Agriculture

Dr. Keely O’Brien

“I, along with my colleagues Tony Johnston and Keely O’Brien of the School of Agriculture, are excited to engage in a project which will help educators, parents and students during this historically challenging time,” Chafin said.

MTSU is one of eight grant recipients announced in November by USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture as part of an investment of more than $10.5 million to support educators nationwide.

Jill Thomas, who served as project coordinator on various CHHS projects from 2007 to 2013, will be project coordinator for “STEMsational Ag: The Virtual Farm.”

Chandra Story, an associate professor in the Department of Health and Human Performance, is the project evaluator.

Jill Thomas, project coordinator, Center for Health and Human Services

Jill Thomas

Dr. Chandra Russell Story, associate professor, Department of Health and Human Performance

Dr. Chandra Story

For more information, please contact Thomas at

Information concerning the grant can be found on the USDA website at Information about the Center for Health and Human Services, go to or contact Chafin at

About the grant

This work is supported by the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative, Education and Workforce Development Program [grant no. 2021-67037-33380/project accession no. 1024880], from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, National Institute of Food and Agriculture.

Any opinions, findings, conclusions or recommendations expressed are those of the author(s) and should not be construed to represent any official USDA or U.S. Government determination or policy.

— Gina K. Logue (