(Courtesy photo / January 2, 2014)

A Harford County teacher is one of just 41 educators across the country who received the Teacher Turn Key award from the National Association for Agricultural Educators.

Katie Warner, 27, of North Harford High School, flew to Las Vegas for the NAEE national convention Dec. 3-7, where she received the award for newbie educators who specialize in agriculture.

TTTK, sponsored by Ram Trucks, is awarded to educators with four or fewer years of experience in agricultural eduction. During the conference, awardees participate in professional development workshops and networking sessions.

"TTTK recipients go through an intensive professional development conference about encouraging them to continue in agricultural education as a career," Dr. Jay Jackman, executive director of NAAE, said. "The agricultural industry loves to hire out of the classroom. We work on keeping them in the classroom and career advancement."

Jackman said there is a misconception that the only careers in the agriculture industry are ranchers and farmers, but he said that is not true.

"The agriculture industry goes well beyond farming and ranching," Jackman said. "Production agriculture is the basis of our industry, but it does not even account for 2 percent of the workforce.."

According to Jackman, about 20 percent of the jobs in agriculture are after the farming process. He said the agriculture industry holds hundreds of jobs in processing, marketing, sales, transportation, packaging and storage.

A natural resource and animal sciences teacher, Warner manages the greenhouse at North Harford High School and teaches plant science to incoming freshmen.

"We are planting pansies, but we're doing science labs—working with hormones and enzymes—not just playing in the greenhouse or in the dirt," Warner said.

While Harford has a mix of rural and suburban areas, North Harford High School, a magnet school for ag education, has students from across the county.

"We have students from Edgewood and Aberdeen that probably wouldn't have had the opportunity to learn about agriculture," Warner said.

Growing up in Carroll County, Warner said she first became interested in agriculture because of her ninth grade teacher. She said she is in very active in the local branches of NAAE and someone anonymously nominated her for the award.

"The conference was extremely busy, but it was a great learning experience," Warner said. "It sort of gets you excited about teaching again and reminds you why you are a teacher."

Warner said she learned lots of valuable information from the networking session while meeting educators, who have more experience in agriculture. She said the best part was the file share system, where she can share ideas and curriculum with other teachers across the country.