Agriculture is of utmost importance: food, clothing and shelter make up our most essential needs. It’s all around us, every day. Because of innovations in food and fiber production, we now have greater yields and fewer farms; yet this brings the challenge of fewer people growing up on, or around, farms. Understanding the challenges that farmers, fishermen, and foresters face are crucial if American agriculture will continue to provide for our essential needs (9). Teachers also don’t often have familiarly with agricultural details, and agricultural themes may not be on their minds as they plan their lessons and fulfill their many requirements. With the recently implemented Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), teachers may find agriculture can be a great arena to present hands-on science to their classes. Here are just a few reasons teachers will find implementing agricultural themes into their classrooms important:
Farmers in Oregon have an average age of 60, and today, just 2% of our nation’s population identify as farmers and ranchers (2). If we wish to continue to be a prominent producer of food and natural resources, we are going to need more farmers and agricultural professionals. Estimates find that one in ten jobs in this country is involved in agricultural and natural resource production and industry, and these jobs are increasing. In fact, the USDA has stated there are nearly 60,000 high-skilled agriculture job openings expected annually in U.S., but only 35,000 graduates with appropriate skills to fill them (6). Agriculture is “no longer about just cows and plows,” according to a recent US News article, but many teachers aren’t aware of technological advances or how to incorporate them into curriculum (7). Some schools are getting students excited with lessons in urban farming, animal science, horticulture, and food chemistry. Lessons in food science, small-scale growing and greenhouse horticulture, drone technology, and weather and climate science can be very exciting to students not from an agricultural background who may not have been aware of these subjects.
Students who learn best from a tactile, applied learning style may have greater success in math and engineering topics when the class focuses on building a greenhouse or aquaponics structure, says Jay Jackman, Executive Director of the National Association of Agricultural Educators (7). He adds, “You put them in an agriculture class and you teach them photosynthesis, for example, in the context of agricultural crops and the science becomes real to them” (7). Additionally, there are now over 633 school gardens in Oregon. School gardens have the opportunity to not only directly show how food grows in the ground, but are a wonderful arena for studying measurement, insects and worms, plant science, as well as present opportunities for tangible sensory experiences. A recent statewide study from our office found that of teachers that have access to a school garden, only 38% of them use them frequently for lessons (8). Lack of knowledge of relevant lessons, and fear of managing a classroom outdoors were identified as challenges.
The NGSS standards incorporate science and engineering practice(s), disciplinary core idea(s), and crosscutting concept(s) to support students in three-dimensional learning. They ask that students create questions and hypotheses, draw charts and predict outcomes in a hands-on manner. Agriculture provides a multitude of these learning opportunities. The seasonal patterns, processes, and cycles of plant and animal science engage students so that they are naturally inquisitive of agricultural details. Weather and climate data can be observed, water needs and tolerances by crops can be discussed. While it’s nearly impossible for one lesson fully align with an NGSS standard and meet all of the performance expectations, AITC lessons are aligned to parts of the NGSS performance expectations and can be used in conjunction with other materials.
Agriculture plays a major role in history, ancient cultures and civilizations, and can be discussed in all grades. Wars were fought over water rights, civilizations vanished because of lack of resources and people traveled thousands of miles on foot for the promise of better agricultural areas. Tomorrow’s students need to be aware of historical struggles for food, shelter, and agriculture in order to understand and innovate in the future. One resource is AITC’s Get Oregonized history book written for students in grades three, four and five. This beautiful textbook helps students understand and appreciate this rich history, people and natural resources that shaped the state of Oregon. Understanding our necessities and how we have dealt with challenges in the past will make for successful futures for our students.
RELEVANT SOCIAL STUDIES
Questions about how food is grown, and how it travels to the grocery store involves geography, social studies, career and financial literacy discussions. A successful economy depends much upon jobs created by agriculture. Problem solving skills and making appropriate value judgements are not always measured on tests, but are essential to be responsible citizens. How we export food and resources to other countries, our cultural traditions, geographic challenges, trading routes, ameliorating food deserts…these are all issues for which we will need to instill knowledge for future decision-makers. We can begin to help convey this knowledge and understanding with details of how our food and natural resources are created, processed, and transported.
Nutrition lessons and where elements of a balanced diet come from are necessary lessons for all grades. Childhood obesity is a huge problem, and the ease of fast food over whole foods can compound this epidemic. Tasting tables and nutrition education are a fun and easy way to connect students with fresh, whole foods. School gardens can then connect the dots with how food is grown and larger-scale agriculture. Knowledge and introductions to new foods can have lasting benefits for the health and future choices of impressionable youngsters.
Last but certainly not least, to understand plants and animals is to love them. This love can be expressed through the arts: drawing, painting, poetry, journaling and stories. Using the senses of taste and smell in foods and garden plants is a fun poetry lesson. Our Calendar Art Contest and newly-launched Young Artist Contest (visit our website for details) discover the art in agriculture, as the beauty of the landscapes, inspiring student creativity.
Researchers have found that if teachers see agricultural themes can be easily integrated into their subject requirements, and that topics such as horticulture, food science, forestry and natural resources present engaging career opportunities for students, they will be motivated to incorporate agriculture-based lessons successfully (4). We hope you find that incorporating lesson plans that involve food production and forestry and natural resources is as fun as it is important.
- In the world’s breadbasket, climate change feeds some worry. 9/5/2011, retrieved from http://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-agriculture-climate-idUSTRE7843GS20110905
- Fast facts about agriculture, retrieved from http://www.fb.org/newsroom/fast-facts
- Reviewing Oregon’s new agricultural census data, 3/11/2014, retrieved from https://emswcd.org/oregon-farmer-census/
- Impacts of Agricultural Literacy Programs on the Perceptions of Illinois Elementary and Junior High School Teachers Towards the Agriculture Industry, FY 02 Mini-Research Project Final Report, Univ. of Illinois, August, 2002.
- The benefits of teaching and learning about agriculture in elementary and junior high schools, 2007, Journal of Agricultural Education vol. 48 no. 3.
- Employment Opportunities for College Graduates in food, agriculture, renewable natural resources, and the environment, US, 2015-2020, Retrieved from https://www.purdue.edu/usda/employment/
- Agriculture education blooms in urban, rural high schools, 03/31/2014, Retrieved from http://www.usnews.com/education/blogs/high-school-notes/2014/03/31/agriculture-education-blooms-in-urban-rural-high-schools
- Oregon Agriculture in the Classroom, 2016 School Garden Survey Results. 2016. Retrieved from http://oregonaitc.org/growingminds/2016/08/08/school-garden-teacher-survey/
- Spielmaker, D. M., & Leising, J. G. (2013). National agricultural literacy outcomes. Logan, UT: Utah State University, School of Applied Sciences & Technology. Retrieved from http://agclassroom.org/teacher/matrix