Why Teach about Agriculture?

This October marks the beginning of my fourth year with Siouxland Agriculture in the Classroom and as I reflect on how I’ve gotten to this point, one memory sticks out as a turning point in my career journey.

I started my freshman year at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln as a pre-veterinary student. But by the end of the second semester, my long-term goals—and my major—changed dramatically.

I was enrolled in an Agricultural Leadership course during the second semester of my freshman year. This course required 20 hours of a service-learning project to be completed. I chose to volunteer at the Boys and Girls Club of Lincoln in an elementary school in downtown Lincoln.

One afternoon, I was called to help out with “Cooking Club.” At the start of Cooking Club that day, the 5th grade students were to compete in a short game to determine which group got to start cooking first. The game consisted of the lead teacher holding up a card with pictures of food and kitchen items on it and the students guessing what the picture was. The first card was a picture of soybeans.

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Being a farm girl and an agriculture student, I was suddenly a lot more interested in this game.

The students started guessing. “Green beans!” “Peas!” “Lima beans!” All good guesses for inner city Lincoln 5th graders but not quite right. The teacher spoke up, “Come on guys, we live in Nebraska! This is an agriculture state. We have farms here. You should know this.” I knew it was a picture of soybeans. The teacher knew it was a picture of soybeans, but what followed will always stick with me.

One of the girls in my group turned to me and asked, “What’s a farm?” And once she asked this, the students around us begged the same question.

My heart sunk. I could have cried. Here we were, less than a few miles from the Nebraska Department of Agriculture, a land grant university, the Nebraska Soybean Board headquarters, several real-life Nebraska soybean farms, and these 5th graders didn’t know what a farm was.

I quickly explained to the students what a farm was and that I lived on a farm, and the game continued. Throughout the rest of Cooking Club, my mind raced. When I got home that evening from volunteering, I went straight to the Dean’s office and changed my major to Agriculture Education and Communication. I could not stand idly by and let 5th graders in a rural state not know what a farm was.

Fast-forward six years and here I am. I lead Siouxland Agriculture in the Classroom, a non-profit founded in 2013 by a group of individuals who saw the need for increased agriculture education in Woodbury County, home of Sioux City.

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Transitional kindergartners wear their dairy cow hats after learning all about Iowa dairy production.  

Over the past three years, I’ve worked with countless students in a five-county area to teach them what farmers do and how their food gets from the farm to their kitchen table. While the counties I oversee are primarily rural areas, I see the disconnect between producers and consumers everywhere. Students today are, on average, at least three generations removed from the farm. Their knowledge of where food comes from is often gained from television, social media or even video games; whether it’s factual or not.

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Chris TenNapel of Ireton FarmChats with Orange City 7th grade science students from his hog farm.

This is why agriculture education and the Agriculture in the Classroom program is so important, not only to the individuals participating in the educational programs but to the agriculture industry as a whole.

The students in schools today are our future buyers, voters and influencers. We need them to be knowledgeable about modern agriculture.

My last thought stems from a favorite quote. “My grandfather used to say that once in your life you need a doctor, a lawyer, a policeman and a preacher. But every day, three times a day, you need a farmer.” –Brenda Schoepp

I’d add to the end of that quote. “And every day a farmer needs an animal nutritionist, a crop scientist, an agriculture engineer, a mechanic, a veterinarian, etc.” Whether they have an agricultural background or not, the students we reach today can be the people farmers need in tomorrow’s agriculture industry. Even a girl who once asked, “What’s a farm?”

-Melissa

Melissa Nelson is the program coordinator for Siouxland Ag in the Classroom

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