Iowa Corn Growers Association

"It Comes From Where!?" Ag Education in Today's Youth

Posted on May 23, 2012 at 5:01 PM by Iowa Corn

Pop quiz!  Where does ham come from?  To most of us this answer is fairly obvious; pigs, ham comes from pigs.  When asked this question however, a group of Kindergarten through 5thgraders at an after school program in Sioux Falls South Dakota almost unanimously yelled…TURKEYS.  When I first heard this story from my fiancĂ©, who was asking the students agriculture related questions, my instinct was to blame the students’ urban upbringing.  With a population of about 154,000 people, with an additional 228,000 in the metropolitan area, Sioux Falls is a much different place than my hometown of Ashton, Iowa with its population of 450.  Kids from urban areas, such as Sioux Falls, rarely ever see livestock of any kind, unless they visit the “farm area” at a local zoo.  To me, it made perfect sense that these students would harbor misconceptions about agriculture.

For a while, I didn’t give much thought to the matter, until a friend, who serves as a National Collegiate Agricultural Ambassador, told me another story that cut a little deeper.  While visiting an elementary class in Story City, she asked the class where chocolate milk came from.  Some the class understood that to get chocolate milk you needed to mix milk and chocolate.  The majority of the class thought the process was much more simple and efficient; just get it from a brown cow.  These students from Story City, Iowa, with a population just over 3,000 in the very heart of our rural state, believed that brown cows produced chocolate milk.  As we talked, she began telling me more and more stories of students from small Iowa schools that were clueless or misinformed about agriculture.

Many people’s reaction would be, “So what?”  Or, “It doesn’t matter, they’re just kids.  They’re not expected to know this stuff.” But the fact that so many students today come up with an endless list of misconceptions is something that bothers me.  Maybe it is the budding Agriculture Educator in me, but the thought of so many students going through school not knowing where their food, clothes, and even some of their toys come from concerns me.  The scariest fact to me, however, is the number students that reach adulthood without ever learning the facts about agriculture.  Just hearing about two college students who were convinced that hens could not possibly lay eggs without a roosters or the college professor who proclaimed to his students that corn being injected into cows was bad for them and farmers should not use it (I could not make this up) worries me.

Paul Schickler, President of Pioneer Hi-Bred, makes an interesting point in a recent article for The Huffington Post.  He points out that the farmers who will be feeding the additional 2 billion people in 2050 are thirteen today.  He goes on to point out another issue, of young students, less and less are interested in returning to the farm and agriculture in general.  So what can be done to ensure that the next generation of agriculturalists has the same knowledge and passion to take an active role in agriculture? Start young.

This may seem obvious, and there are current programs that address the issue, but are the current programs enough?  There are many great agriculture education programs geared towards K-12 students in America.  Programs like Agriculture in the Classroom and many others reach hundreds of thousands of students each year.  The Agriculture in the Classroom program in Wisconsin, for example, reached in excess of 55,000 students in 2006.  This number was extremely impressive at first, until I realized that this was only 6% of the more than 875,000 enrolled in Wisconsin’s public schools.  The biggest obstacle for these organizations is manpower.

As the current generation of agriculturalists, we must start preparing the next wave for the challenges they will face in agriculture.  Whether that be donating time and resources to the current youth education programs that so heavily rely on volunteer labor, starting our own programs, or something as drastic as working to get agriculture education as a part of elementary school curriculum, it’s going to take action on our part.  The next time we hear young students claim that ham comes from turkeys, chocolate milk comes from brown cows, or something even more outrageous, we must remember that they may be the ones responsible for feeding us, our children, or our grandchildren in the not so distant future.

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