Representation (in Agriculture) Matters

While we can and should recognize the contributions of people of color all year long, Black History Month gives us a great opportunity to focus on and raise up those contributions people in these communities have made. Black History Month reminds us of the importance of respecting and supporting Black people and minorities here in the United States. Even through teaching agriculture we can teach topics and teach in ways that promote respect, love, empathy and understanding to influence young people who will eventually become doers and leaders in this world.

In including conversations about respect of all people, no matter what their skin color, we are able to point to solutions and methods of action that positively impact our world. These conversations can be challenging, so where do you start? Do you start with the six elements of social justice: self-love and knowledge, respect for others, issues of social injustice, social movements and social change, awareness raising, and social action?

Or do you start with the small step that we can all take by including more books representing black characters or from black authors in our curricula? Some of our favorites books are about George Washington Carver who had a huge role in agricultural research. He can be, in part, credited for things like our modern system of crop rotation with legumes and nutrient intensive crops (soybeans and corn or peanuts and tobacco). Check out some of these great titles:

  • A Picture Book of George Washington Carver by David A. Adler
  • A Pocketful of Goobers: A Story About George Washington Carver by Barbara Mitchell
  • A Weed is a Flower: The Life of George Washington Carver by Aliki
  • George Washington Carver by Tonya Bolden
  • George Washington Carver for Kids; His Life and Discoveries, With 21 Activities by Peggy Thomas
  • George Washington Carver: Agriculture Pioneer: Life Science (Science Readers) by Stephanie Macceca
  • George Washington Carver; Ingenious Inventor (Graphic Library) by Nathan Olson
  • In the Garden with Dr. Carver by Susan Grigsby

Black farmers and agriculturalists have had a lot of other contributions to the agriculture industry. Consider Henry Blair who patented both corn and cotton planters. Consider Booker T. Whatley who researched sustainable farming practices and helped improve farm efficiency. Or consider Frederick McKinley Jones who invented the refrigerated truck and helped develop the refrigerated transportation system. In celebrating this attitude of invention, science, and engineering, some of our favorite books featuring people of color are:

  • George Crum and the Saratoga Chip by Gaylia Taylor
  • No Small Potatoes: Junius G. Groves and His Kingdom in Kansas by Tonya Bolden
  • Seeds for Change: The Lives and Work of Suri and Edda Sehgal by Marly Cornell
  • The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind by William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer

Black people and other minority groups are an integral part of American history, science, innovation, and agriculture. Black agriculturalists tend to be underrepresented and face unique challenges. Representation of these groups in nature, science, and agriculture can be important to recognize their contributions and to help create STEM identity in our students.

Building this representation in curricula and developing STEM identity in students can even be tied to history lessons and social studies standards. We remember that we are not isolated, but instead connected to the world as things like Iowa corn is used here at home and also shipped all around the globe. Some of our favorite books that feature diverse cultures and people are:

  • Auntie Yang’s Great Soybean Picnic by Ginnie Lo
  • Carlos and the Cornfield by Jan Romero Stevens
  • Esperanza Rising by Pam Muñoz Ryan
  • Harvesting Friends, Cosechando Amigos by Kathleen Contreras and Gary Undercuffler
  • Sweet Corn and Sushi by Lori Erickson
  • The Empty Pot by Demi
  • The Good Garden by Katie Smith Milway and Sylvie Daigneault
  • The Legend of the Poinsettia by Tomie dePaola

These resources and thoughtful conversations can help students develop race consciousness and help minimize or eliminate discrimination. At the end of the day we all eat. We are all tied to agriculture. We can all have a role in producing food and understanding the agricultural system that is behind it. We can stand shoulder-to-shoulder with peers of all hues. Representation in agriculture matters.

-Will

How will you be celebrating Black History Month? What titles did we miss? We’d love to hear from you.

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