What are children in schools being taught about agriculture? The number of teachers with agriculture backgrounds continues to decline. And, teaching about a topic that is not familiar to an instructor can be a reason for less discussion on agriculture in the classroom.
So, what options exist? Ag in the Classroom is a national organization that began in 1981 and is present in every state. Some are operated entirely by volunteers, while other states have full and/or part-time staff. On the national and state levels, they have a variety of resource material for teachers. Many are free educational materials for students, while some are available at nominal costs. Fortunately, many commodity groups have provided educational workbooks on corn, cranberries and dairy cattle, to name a few to help young people understand agriculture and its role not only in the food chain, but the economy. Some workbooks even come with a teacher's manual, to aid in creating lesson plans for those needing some additional support.
The Ag in the Classroom provides information on seasonal items like turkey and cranberries in the fall. Activity guides include math problems, writing projects and general background on various ag commodities. Visit www.agclassroom.org to learn more. The material is suited for pre-kindergarten to high school students.
There are fun videos where students can see how corn is popped in slow motion and how it happens. Did you know it takes special corn to make popcorn, not just any corn will do! There are ideas on science fair projects that involve agriculture. Resources like these stretch the mind to think beyond the red barn and white fence. Here is a very good video on dairy. It follows milk being produced at the farm, hauling to the plant and its processing. It covers milk testing, pasteurization, standardization and packaging.
While dairy producers have very busy schedules, they may not have time to visit schools to talk about dairy and agriculture, they do have the contacts with their state or regional milk marketing boards which may provide additional resource material. Books, worksheets and posters that explain and promote dairy in the community and in the diets of school children are often available to producers.
With the resources of Ag in the Classroom and local milk marketing boards, there are many opportunities for education available. However, if the schools and teachers are unaware these learning tools exist, they cannot help educate the next generation of consumers.
Maybe take some time this winter to check the resources and share them with the local schools. This year the Ag in the Classroom essay topic for fourth and fifth graders in Wisconsin is "Wisconsin farms help me eat a healthy lunch by…" Picture a ham and cheese sandwich with a glass of fruit juice. Just a lunch to a child, but, an amazing lesson in food production from the harvesting of the wheat to make the bread, to the pork industry's ham, dairy processing of milk into cheese and planting of fruit trees to grow fruits to be made into beverages. Would children eating that lunch tie all of those foods into agriculture's food chain? They might, if they were encouraged to think about food differently.
Let us know what you are doing in your communities to help share dairy and agriculture's story with others.