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Next gen agricultural education

How can educators inspire a new era of farmers?

When you look at your tennis shoes or bike tires, you might not think of a farm. But they are related: the rubber used in both items contains by-product from cattle. It’s connections like these that Lacey Taylor, extension agent with Adams County 4-H outreach, tries to make when she speaks with kids and their caregivers about the role that agriculture plays in people’s everyday lives. It’s a way of informing, but also a way of sparking curiosity, so kids might be inspired to explore the world of farming and agriculture.

4-H is America’s largest youth development organization, reaching more than 6 million kids across the country. While they provide learning opportunities in a wide variety of topics – including fashion design and leadership – 4-H also hosts many activities and projects that focus on STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics), agriculture, food and nutrition. Anythink partners with 4-H to host annual embryology programs, where kids can learn about the life cycle of a baby chick or duckling, and watch as they hatch and grow at the library.

Programs like these are helping to create a renewed interest in agricultural education. As the industry itself changes, educators often find themselves promoting the appeal and connection to other subjects like science, engineering, math and botany.

“I have been pleased to see more students enrolling in agricultural education not only in K-12, but also at the university level,” says Taylor. “Once people realize that agriculture is a broad experience and is tied to water, food, nutrition, engineering and beyond, we see the involvement grow.”

This is the same approach that’s being suggested by Build Strong Education in Reunion, Colo. Because of Reunion’s central location in what’s known as Colorado’s Agriculture Innovation Triangle – the points of which are Denver’s National Western Center, Fort Collins and Denver International Airport – the community is working toward creating a next-generation agricultural high school. This yet-to-be-named charter school, which will put forth an application with School District 27J later this year, aims to create personalized experiences for students to learn about emerging trends and technology.

“Agriculture is a huge economic driver and is one of the largest industry employers in the state, yet we don’t focus on it much in traditional high schools,” says Amy Schwartz, executive director of Build Strong Education. “So [this school] is a call back to the history of the land, but with a current focus on where the industry is now and where it’s going.”

Schwartz adds that having an agriculture-focused high school is also a great opportunity to inspire the next generation to discover agriculture as a means of addressing complex questions like global food networks and water access.

“It’s as much a movement around food security, safety and accessibility as it is about farming,” she says. “Because at the end of the day, that’s what agriculture is all about – big-picture concepts with human impact.” ■

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