Agriculture is an important collecting focus for The Henry Ford, so we’re very honored to have the Michigan Farm Bureau join us as a partner. Catherine Tuczek, our curator of school and public learning, sat down with Education Specialist Amelia Miller to talk about the importance of agriculture in today’s classroom.
Why does it make sense for The Henry Ford and the Michigan Foundation for Agriculture and Michigan Agriculture in the Classroom to partner together? The Michigan Agriculture in the Classroom program strives to provide educators with standards-based lessons which teach about local agriculture through classroom subjects such as science, social studies, English language arts, math and more. To partner with The Henry Ford allows us a direct link to put these lessons in the hands of the teachers. With the historical agriculture exhibits and The Henry Ford’s focus on innovation, it makes sense to showcase modern agriculture, showing the progression in agricultural technologies throughout time. Where do most people learn about agriculture these days? Knowledge of food and agriculture is no different than any other topic. Consumers today turn to social media for information about their food and the way it’s raised. 63% of Michigan consumers say they prefer to purchase products grown and raised in Michigan. Today’s consumer expects transparency between farmers, food processors and consumers. About half of U.S. consumers want to learn about food safety and the impact of food on their health directly from food labels; while about 40% want to learn about animal well-being, environmental impact and business ethics from company websites. (source: Center for Food Integrity)
What are common misconceptions children have about agriculture? Many students (and parents!) draw conclusions from their immediate surroundings. Less than 2% of the U.S. population live on farms or ranches, with this disconnect comes misconceptions. Often, students guess their milk comes from a grocery store cooler rather than a dairy cow. Careers in agriculture don’t just mean working on a farm, from sales and marketing to plant science to animal health jobs are available in business, biology, mechanics, and more. Today’s agriculturalists are very technology-savvy people. Farmers utilize advancements in plant breeding and genetics to grow more food on less land while utilizing less water, fertilizer and pesticides than ever before. 98% of Michigan farms are family owned rooted in the tradition of raising plants and animals in our Great Lakes state. No matter the size of the farm, these farmers are working to take care of the land, animals, plants and the environment.
How can agriculture enrich traditional curriculum like science, social studies, math or English Language Arts? Agriculture can be the tangible subject which brings any content area to life. With educational trends focusing on inquiry-based learning, agriculture provides a living platform to ask questions or present scenarios. Beginning in preschool, students explore basic plant science through growing seeds, labeling plant parts and drawing conclusions that some plants produce edible fruits or vegetables. Similarly animal science can be integrated into cell biology, nutrition or physiology. When we think about advanced science, we also think about math.
These two foundational concepts go hand in hand as students progress in physics, chemistry and biology all of which are necessary in plant, animal and food science. Agriculture, food and natural resources is Michigan’s second largest economic sector, easily connecting to third and fourth grade social studies. The Mitten State’s unique geography creates many microclimates which allow our state to be the second most diverse food producing state in the nation, growing more than 300 different agricultural commodities. Not to be forgotten, English Language Arts (ELA) can tie all these subjects together. Particularly at elementary levels, reading and ELA is of a primary focus. Utilizing recommended Agriculture Literacy texts and their partnering lesson plans, teachers can pair ELA standards with connecting science standards within one lessons.
How can agricultural education enrich children’s personal lives? There is great reward in seeing the fruits of our own labor. Learning to care for the land or animals is one of our most basic life skills. With trends focusing on unplugging from our electronic device toting society and theories about “Nature-Deficit Disorder” creating the “No Child Left Inside” movement, agriculture education encourages children to learn from the environment. Hands-on lessons focusing on growing plants, caring for animals or studying natural resources gets students out of the classroom. Agriculture education easily caters to all learning styles providing visual, kinesthetic and auditory teaching methods. From early on, society encourages children to consider “what they want to be when they grow up.” While many answers are simple, familiar responses such as firefighter, teacher or doctor, those are just three of the wide world of careers available, each requiring varying levels of post-high school training. Between 2015 and 2020 we expect to see 57,900 average annual openings for graduates with bachelor’s degrees or higher in agriculture. A farmer or veterinarian may be popular career choices amongst children, but reality is agriculture needs scientists, engineers, business managers, marketing professionals, graphic designers, agronomists, animal nutrition specialists, food processors, packaging engineers, mechanics, welders, electricians, educators, and government officials. (source: USDA, AFNR Employment Opportunities) What are the most important components in agricultural education? There are five basic groupings of agricultural literacy lessons: Agriculture and the Environment; Plants and Animals for Food, Fiber and Energy; Food, Health and Lifestyle; STEM; and Culture, Society, Economy and Geography. These National Agricultural Literacy Outcomes developed by the National Agriculture in the Classroom Organization focus agriculture learning and assist in aligning lessons with national education standards. If K-12 teachers utilize these groupings when incorporating agriculture into curriculum, students will effectively gain an understanding of agriculture in their daily life.