Want the truth known? Help ag in the classroom broaden its influence

owenSometimes, people who understand agriculture – farmers, for example – are reluctant to enter into a public forum to talk about the profession they love.

Other times, they’ll stand up and speak voluntarily, as leaders of their commodity organization or farm group.

But on at least one occasion, others still will actually pay for the opportunity to tell the world what’s on their mind.

And if you’re energized by what’s becoming known as agvocacy, you’ll be glad to know these numbers are growing.

Next month, the Canadian Young Speakers for Agriculture (CYSA) competition will be publicly staged for the 28th time, at the Royal Winter Fair in Toronto. There, 45 young people – a record number of participants — from across the country will pay a $40 participation fee (not to mention travel and other expenses, offset in part by a grant from John Deere) to stand shoulder to shoulder with others in the fair’s presentation theatre, and tell the world what’s on their mind.

Their delivery vehicle is a 5-7 minute speech, based on topics offered up well in advance by the competition’s board of directors. Participants state their chosen topic when they register, and this year by far the most popular choice is not the family farm (my prediction), a look into the future (my second prediction) or essential technologies (my third prediction )– but rather, should agriculture be in the curriculum?

Students in my agricultural communications class at the University of Guelph take part in the competition, and in an in-class speak-off they likewise overwhelmingly chose the curriculum topic. Their content varied, but for the most part they said the school system is the place agvocacy is most likely to have a lasting impression. Pro-farming campaigns and anti-farming watchdogs have a role, they say, but getting to youngsters as soon as possible with facts about farming is really the way to go.

That way, when they become adults or hear people take positions on agriculture, they’ll be better positioned to know what’s fact and what’s opinion.

Of course, agriculture in the classroom programs already exist, and program organizers work hard to gather resources that will interest teachers. But my students believe teachers don’t have enough opportunities in the curriculum to use agricultural resources – or perhaps don’t understand why agriculture is important.

So, there’s two challenges. The farm sector needs to back up whatever pleas program organizers are making provincially for more curriculum exposure for teachers. As well, the sector needs to stay in the face of decision makers, with clear messages about agriculture’s importance to the economy, health and the environment.

That’s how more agriculture will get into the curriculum.

 

Owen Roberts

Owen Roberts directs research communications and teaches at the University of Guelph, and is president of the International Federation of Agricultural Journalists. You can find him on Twitter as @theurbancowboy

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2 Comments

April Stewart

As coordinator for Agriculture in the Classroom Quebec I can’t thank Mr. Roberts enough for speaking out so passionately and knowledgeably on behalf of such an important topic and organization. It also heartens me to see that so many students themselves think that agriculture should be included in the curriculum. The reality is there are so many links to be made: agriculture as it relates to science, math, economics, social sciences, health and well-being, career education and much, much more!

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Barbara Adams

The timing to advocate a stronger link to agriculture through our school curriculum is definitely right. Agriculture in the Classroom Canada is currently working to establish a more formalized national presence that will help build agriculture awareness through education. Our resources and programs currently deliver curriculum linked materials to over 1million students and teachers across Canada. Sector support in delivering the message about the importance of agriculture will help us to extend that reach and impact!

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