Remember finding a quarter as a kid? That used to be huge for me when I was young! If I had a quarter, I could get not just one, but two gumballs from the local convenience store. If I walked a little out of my way, and ventured past the bakery, I could bring home an entire loaf of day-old-bread. A quarter doesn’t go as far today.
We are fortunate to live in a society of abundance. What we want and what we think we need is sometimes as simple as a click away. We expect our items to be at the grocery store when we want them. Phrases like “out-of-stock” frustrate us. The idea of having to ration our food or money is almost unfathomable. So how do we then teach our students about sustainable agriculture and how most resources are limited?
Journey 2050 takes students on a virtual farm simulation. This helps students explore sustainable agriculture on a global level. Each section of the game play is paired with a lesson plan that teachers can walk students through to ensure they have a good grasp of the concepts. The program encourages students to make decisions and adjust them as they see their impact on society, the environment, and the economy at a local and global scale. The students learn about farmers across the globe to learn about climate, market, and other various differences worldwide.
As the student interacts with each family, they learn the role of best management practices in feeding the world, reducing environmental impacts and in improving social performance through greater access to education, medical care, and community infrastructure.
To help understand sustainability, imagine a wooden barrel, made equally with three parts; economy, society, and environment. If you can only fill the barrel as high as the lowest slat on the barrel. The lowest slat becomes the most important and the one that should be addressed or fixed. To increase your overall sustainability, you have to raise that one lowest slat of the barrel.
Sustainability is a combination of these three areas – economic, social, and environmental. Most people are familiar with environmental sustainability, which includes maintaining soil health, protecting wildlife habitats, ensuring clean water, and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. But none of those things are possible without ALSO being economically sustainable.
Being economically sustainable means farmers can generate profit and help pay for those things to help protect the environment. Being economically sustainable also means that jobs are created, incomes can be earned, and the community can support itself. But those things aren’t possible without also being socially sustainable.
Being socially sustainable means people have food to eat to keep them healthy, that they are well educated about the issues, and that the community has infrastructure like roads, electricity, etc. to help make things work smoothly and efficiently. These three elements of sustainability closely rely on each other.
The Journey 2050 program helps students understand that in agriculture and elsewhere there are finite resources. If students run out of money, they won’t be able to plant their next field. They have to wait to harvest and next time possibly prioritize spending differently. Students have to understand how to manage finite water resources, nutrient resources, and money resources. They need to manage their time. Sometimes, time is up before the harvest can be completed. The resources the student has invested into a particular field, have now been lost. Disappointment can be a powerful motivator to help students be more aware of the time. Just like in real life, farmers have only a certain amount of time to harvest their crops too. Managing all of these elements efficiently can lead to a sustainable farming operation.
Students get really excited when working with the Journey 2050 program. They shout things like, “I just bought a wind turbine to produce my own energy sustainably!” And, “I just made $140,000 harvesting my corn”. One student even commented, “Did you know I bought a well that is going to save lives by providing safe drinking water?”
For those students that just can’t get enough, there is also an at-home version of the game that is available as a mobile app called Farmers 2050. Farmers 2050 applies many of the same concepts, but then takes them further by turning raw farm products into finished goods (apples to apple juice or apple pies). Then players can sell their goods to other people in their community and other people around the world. This really gives students an understanding of how global agriculture is and how we can all contribute to a more sustainable world.
Teaching students about sustainability has benefits beyond understanding about how to feed the world in the future. If conscious thought is given to using what we have now to the best of our ability and making sure we conserve resources for future generations, I believe we can help our children live more satisfied lives now.