While the path to my work took a few turns, I really thought I wanted to be a teacher at some point. I loved learning and then passing new things on to my friends and loved ones. I’m sure my little sister got annoyed with our school play dates, as I wanted her four-year-old brain to learn to spell really hard words to impress our parents.
So, I did not become a real, in-the-classroom-for-at-least-36-weeks-of-the-year, teacher. Looking at education through a parent’s eyes, I really don’t think I could handle the emotional intelligence that is required to be with struggling or unpredictable young people each day, and I definitely know I could not handle parents. Hats off to my teacher friends. You are a special breed.
The reality is, however, that most of us in agriculture are educators on a regular basis. We live and breathe it, and we let others know our passion for everything farming contributes to our communities and the world. We can’t live without it, and we get frustrated when so many without any real knowledge of what it takes to produce food, fiber and renewable feedstocks want to dictate how farmers conduct their businesses.
A couple months ago, my eighth grader told me her writing class had been discussing food production for writing assignment prompts. The teacher showed the documentary Food, Inc., and she said the conversations were crazy. Several kids claimed they would become vegetarians, and a few more decided that all processed foods and GMOs needed to be removed from our diets. Of course, they did.
“I hope you interjected,” I said. “Did you tell your teacher what I do for a living?”
I have been dragging my daughter to all my farm promotion events since she was eight, so she shared her viewpoint with the class. We also sent the teacher a packet full of information, which led to an invitation for me to come speak to the class. Thankfully, the teacher wanted to provide her students with another viewpoint.
I visited the class, and spoke to 175 13 to 15 year-old-kids about how farming is portrayed to provoke a reaction, food marketing, growing populations, and how much risk is involved in any food production system. Many of the kids had questions about animal welfare standards, the quality of their food, food waste, and antibiotic use. I loved their questions, and we had great discussion. We even played a game about farming risk, which the kids really enjoyed.
At the end of each class, the teacher asked the students two questions: 1) How did having a speaker come to the class differ from watching the documentary, and 2) Did the speaker change your opinions on anything?
The response was consistent among each class. They thought it was an advantage being able to ask questions and get immediate feedback from an individual that worked in agriculture. They even said that my way of explaining made them believe that I was a credible source; I made sure to give viewpoints from both sides of the “table.” Many of the kids who made decisions based on what they saw in the movie said they felt much better about their food and were more informed about their choices. I even received a huge stack of thank you letters with specific examples of what resonated with each of them. Mission accomplished.
The fact is that we all need to get into a classroom. I know that the older the kids get, the more difficult the conversations become, but I encourage you to get in there and be honest with them. Talk about the struggles of producing food, or how you help farmers produce food. Even the youngest students need to know how their food is produced and that we want them to have safe, nutritious choices.
March 21st is National Ag Day. If you have not visited a classroom before, that could be the day to jump right in. Connect with your local school and ask if you can visit a classroom or two to talk about agriculture. If you need help, we have dozens of resources on our website, www.teachkyag.org, for different grade levels.
For those of you that want to make agriculture literacy a regular project, you may consider joining our Agriculture Literacy Network. Members have access to teaching activities and resources at a significant discount and are provided tips and suggestions through newsletters and social media groups.
So here is my plea: become an ag teacher for at least one day or more, if you have the time. Social media has made it easier to connect with people daily, but it is connecting to farmers and agribusiness professionals in person that will leave a lasting impact.