It’s March and I can almost taste spring. Certainly the thermometer around here isn’t part of that – but the slightly longer days and that first day of spring marked on the calendar for later this month – has me longing for it. Dream with me of those warm spring nights in the field filling up the corn planter with tiny seeds ready to burst to life out of the soil or those calm early mornings when the sun is just ready to rise as I bring the cows in from the pasture into the barn for their morning milking and a day in the shade of the barn. We deserve spring.
Another sure sign that spring isn’t far away is a promotional week on now known as Canadian Agriculture Literacy Week. It’s a week when agriculture in the classroom organizations from across the country come together to celebrate agriculture education, and, more importantly, build awareness about the importance of including farm and food lessons in every level of school. Not only is this a great time to promote farm education, but I think it a great time to reflect on where we are at when it comes to agriculture literacy in the education program – and how we as farmers and agriculture industry professionals are doing at reaching out and helping students and teachers better understand all of the processes of food production.
For that, we head into the schools. A teacher who has spent a lot of her career in primary classrooms in urban Ontario starts this conversation saying her experience shows a lot of teachers don’t spend very much time talking about farm and food production. Of course that changes, “if it is relevant or dictated from above.” A lot of times, she notes, there are conversations about food and healthy living — just that connection between the farm and the food isn’t always made. That does change in two conflicting areas though. One is if the teacher has a personal connection to a farm or a farmer. She says it gives them more perspective to make sure the connection is made. On the other side are teachers that carry individual opinions and values about being vegan, and share some of those values with their impressionable children.
This view does support one I’ve suspected for a while. There are a few sharing values on vegan or vegetarian diets, and some that are sharing stories based on personal farm experiences. But most spend very little time talking about agriculture, leaving us to try to do a better job for current and future students to avoid misinformed food buyers down the road.
So what can be done? Michele Payn-Knoper is the voice for agriculture advocacy in the United States, and author of the book “No More Food Fights.” She says this is where individual farmers have a greater role. Remember the teacher who says if there is a personal connection made to a classroom, farm production is more likely to be brought up in schools? Payn-Knoper says she has seen everything from farmers connecting to a classroom via Skype, to classrooms visiting a farm at planting or harvest, to a farmer visiting a classroom every month to talk about what they are doing at that time of year.
The first step to getting there though, is connecting with a teacher and understanding their needs. “Spend some time getting to know their needs and then offer ideas of how to address those through fun, creative activities that will excite the kids and bring farming to life. We have the perfect subject; there is not a curriculum area that agriculture doesn’t relate to,” she notes. But if visiting directly with a classroom isn’t possible, it doesn’t mean a farmer can’t help support the cause of agriculture literacy. Payn-Knoper says, “Certainly the numbers of people farming or even in agriculture make it difficult for us to reach every student. However, agriculture working together can certainly multiply the ripple effect. Social media has to be a piece of the puzzle today, as well. Aside from an on-farm visit, it’s difficult to replace the value of images and videos coming from the 1% of people on a farm.”
So if you are a farmer, or anyone within the agriculture sector that wants to help with agriculture literacy – here is your challenge:
- Find out what classes, subjects, and grades you can help with. Remember, it has to connect with the curriculum and the teacher, while being interactive and fun for the students.
- How are you going to educate? Work with the teacher to find out if Skype chats, a farm tour and/or you regularly visiting the class fit best.
- Learn and evolve. One of the greatest things you can do is being invited back. Get feedback from the teacher and the children to better yourself for the next visit or the next class.
Together, we can overcome what has become an enormous and widening divide between farmers and food production and 98% of the population – starting with classrooms. It won’t always be easy, but doing nothing is certainly not going to give us results we need. Let’s celebrate agriculture literacy week in Canada and get at it!
If you are a teacher looking for resources – look no further than Agriculture in the Classroom Canada’s website, and choose your province to get more information.