Ten years ago, if you had asked Trevor Claiborn what he wanted to be, it definitely would not have been a farmer. He had his sights set on the entertainment business and being a hip-hop artist.
In fact, he’d never stepped foot on a farm.
You’d never know that today to see Claiborn performing in front of an audience of school kids as Farmer Brown Tha’ MC, a cool character who uses rap to promote agriculture.
A graduate of Bryan Station High School, Claiborn took his music to Atlanta before returning to Kentucky to pursue an education, first graduating from Bluegrass Community and Technical College. He graduates this spring from Kentucky State University with a major in agricultural systems. In the fall, he begins work on a masters degree in environmental science.
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The idea for Farmer Brown was sparked at the family dinner table when Claiborn tried to engage his young niece in conversation. They were eating hamburgers, and he asked her where she thought hamburgers came from.
“A tree,” she answered.
“Research shows most families are three generations away from the farm, away from knowing how food is raised,” Claiborn said.
And not just city children have that information gap.
“A lot of kids in rural areas aren’t any more connected to agriculture and farming and knowing where our food comes from than inner city kids,” he said.
Encouraged by his KSU professor Charlie Collins, Claiborn used his talent for music and rhyming in a research project to create Farmer Brown, who raps about everything from planting seeds and fertilizer, to his overall love of agriculture.
“I’m Farmer Brown, And I work the ground. And I love my farm,” the lyrics state.
His target audience is elementary through high school students. He wants to reach all youngsters, but especially those in the inner city and minorities, with the message about growing food, raising farm animals and the inter-connectedness of air, water and soil in agriculture.
Claiborn entertains as he educates what he hopes will be a new generation of farmers.
He also works to break down stereotypes. He doesn’t want kids to think of farmers as “somebody who’s missing a tooth and chewin’ on a corn cob,” he says.
That’s where rap comes in. If kids listen to rappers like Lil Wayne and Drake, they’re not going to identify with somebody who plays the banjo, Claiborn said. But they do connect with Farmer Brown, a “socially cool character” who wears bright yellow overalls and oversized yellow-framed glasses, “a mix of Sesame Street and Snoop Dog,” he said.
Claiborn has taken his Farmer Brown program as far as Chicago to perform for school children.
Starting Feb. 11, he is teaming up with KSU’s College of Agriculture, Food Science and Sustainable Systems to present a series of Urban Gardening Workshops at The Lyric Theatre and Cultural Arts Center to educate middle school and high school students about urban agriculture and sustainable food production.
Fresh-OP at The Lyric will give students hands-on experience in planning and planting a garden in an urban setting. They will learn about gardening in barrels, vertical gardens, aquaponic gardening, raised beds and straw bale gardens. Students will have projects to take home each week. They will also start transplants from seed, do a canning activity, have a cookout and take part in filming a video about the workshops.
While rhyming lyrics and a snappy beat entertain, his mission is always to get children interested in farming.
“I don’t expect them to wake up one morning and decide to be a farmer. But if they have a positive view of farming early on, as they get older, they may remember one of the kooky little songs from Farmer Brown,” Claiborn said. “I’m an optimist. There’s nothing wrong with being prepared.”
Reach Beverly Fortune at firstname.lastname@example.org or at (859) 948-7846.
If you go
Fresh-OP at The Lyric, workshops to help middle and high school students understand where food comes from and show them how to grow their own food.
When: 9 a.m. to noon, Feb. 11, 25; March 11, April 8, 22; May 13, 27.
Where: The Lyric Theatre and Cultural Arts Center, 300 East Third St.
Registration: To register, go to www.kysu.edu/lyric. Or sign up on Feb. 11 at the Lyric. Must be accompanied by a parent.