The importance of agricultural education in schools
Kate Ziehm, publisher of “Morning Ag Clips,” wrote an article for her publication on December 8 titled “It is our Responsibility.” Kate received a note from a teacher who said that he shares the “Morning Ag Clips” with his class and raved about how that helps keep his students current on agriculture issues. She goes on to say, “It is our responsibility to get our children/students who love agriculture hooked into something every day that keeps them aware of what is going on in the industry.”
Ziehm goes on to say that the future of agriculture lies with our kids. “They are the next generation that is going to feed the world and be the stewards of the land.” She suggests that knowledge provides the power, while personality provides the action. Kate goes on to say that it is pretty simple. Get the youth tuned in, whether it be through podcasts, radio, industry publications or “Morning Ag Clips.”
The task is bigger than keeping the young people that want to go into the industry we call agriculture interested. It is also getting the youngsters that live in more urban and suburban neighborhoods to cultivate an interest in farming, or food distribution, or processing. The industry is so much bigger than just producing the food, forage, and fiber. It is the responsibility of us involved in agriculture to also tell the story of our family farms and the farmers that care for the land, care for the soil, and the animals that they care for seven days a week. There is so much misinformation circulating about agriculture and it is our responsibility to correct the record.
Most non-rural people are far removed from the farm. So many today do not know where their food comes from. It just is on the grocery store shelf, and little thought is given by the consumers to how it gets there. As the saying goes, “If you like to eat, then you have to like agriculture.” It is our responsibility to ensure everyone knows how food gets to their plate, and how much the farmer cares that it is safe, nutritious, and good tasting.
There are two organizations for young people and youth: the 4H, sponsored by the Cooperative Extension, and the FFA, that is ffound in many high schools. I can think of no better organizations for educating our kids about agriculture, but to also develop leadership skills. Maria VanderWoude, executive director of the Granite State Association of FFA says, “Agriculture requires professionals with specialized skills to accept the stewardship of the environment, producing safe products for consumption, and maintaining a competitive advantage in a worldwide market.” Maria goes on to say, “Youth training for careers in agriculture must have viable ways to develop their leadership skills as they prepare to take the reins and guide the industry.” The FFA promotes premier leadership through its many events, programs and competitions.”
Farming First publication from August 2013 encourages school systems across the world to include agriculture in the curriculum at all grade levels. The article suggests that we in the industry use social media to convey to students and consumers the story of our farms and farm families. It rightly says that today’s youth are the next generation that is going to feed the world, and we need them prepared to take on that responsibility.
Since it is our responsibility to educate our youth about agriculture, we need to encourage school districts to look for creative ways to pique the children’s interest. Suggestions are to teach agriculture as part of a science curriculum, or adding some agriculture as part of a math lesson. Elementary school children can get a great deal of motivation by planting herbs in classroom window boxes, caring for those herbs, and then harvesting them for the school cafeteria to be used fresh or dried throughout the year. School gardens are another way to teach children about farming and gardening. You can even experiment with organic and non-organic methods in adjoining gardens. As agriculture legislators, you have a unique opportunity to spread the agriculture and wholesome food message to your constituents. As legislators, you need to ensure that your state and provincial budgets adequately fund agriculture education programs.
While FFA and 4H in schools are very highly recommended in the development of agricultural, forestry, and leadership skills, the “Ag in the Classroom” program cannot be forgotten. In this program, adults volunteer to read the “Ag in the Classroom” book of the year to third graders. Each year, a different area of farming is featured. Equally important to familiarizing school children with life on the farm is the Farm to School program, where farmers provide food to schools cafeterias, bring farm animals to the school, or host tours of their farms for the school children.
Kate Ziehm is right. Educating youth and consumers about agriculture and our family farms is our responsibility. If we do not do it, who will?