My soon-to-be-rookie-ag-teacher niece and I had a few minutes to hang out before a meeting we both attended recently, and I asked her how her classes were going.
My typically happy-go-lucky niece replied they were going well, but she was concerned about being more creative in the classroom. She wants to engage her future students to draw them into agriculture and enjoy the learning process. There’s a good chance not all of the students will have backgrounds in agriculture, so her classroom might be the first time they will be exposed to the industry. That’s a pretty big burden for a fresh-from-college teacher, and not one I would want to undertake. I have great faith in my young niece and know she will do an extraordinary job.
How do we engage the public, not just high school students, to learn more about agriculture? It’s not very glamorous and is pretty much devoid of paparazzi. It’s long hours in all types of weather, there’s no getting rich and there aren’t many extended vacations. The only time major news outlets pick up an agriculture-related story is when there’s a “crisis,” such as a drought or other disaster, a recall of a food product or an animal abuse claim. Those things don’t exactly give that warm-fuzzy feel to most folks when they look at the industry.
To expand the appeal to agriculture, farmers and ranchers first need to broaden their own appeal. Producers in the Ozarks are starting to see that engaging one-on-one with consumers about their farm, farming practices and products from their farm creates a positive relationship. Look at the ever-growing popularity of farmers markets and the farm-to-plate movement. Folks flock to those vendors for everything from apples to zucchini, eggs to meat, and jams and jellies to honey.
I know not all producers can’t meet everyone who benefits from their farm or ranch, but it is possible to share the story of your operation or the industry and to be an advocate for agriculture. If we are not advocates for our industry, who will be? Agriculture has many groups advocating against it, so we need to toot our own horn a little. Explain to consumers that animals are not pumped full of antibiotics or tortured, there’s no puss in milk and farmers are not responsible for destroying the environment. If we can draw them into agriculture in a positive and educational way, they will learn about the industry and become agricultural advocates themselves.
I tend to take for granted that most people in the Ozarks have a general understanding of agriculture, but that’s not the case. It’s not just “big city people” who think food comes from a grocery store. Many of the residents in our rural communities may live outside the city limits, but they are still multiple generations removed from agriculture, and the distance continues to grow with each day.
We don’t have to sugarcoat the industry when sharing the story of ag. Folks need to know it’s hard work, that there are physical and mental challenges daily, and Mother Nature is either your best friend or worst enemy, but it’s still a pretty good way of life. It’s also more than a job for many; it’s a family tradition and a passion.
Find your own creative and educational way to share the story of agriculture; become an ag teacher to those who express an interest in the industry. I’m sure our ag education pros will appreciate the help.
Julie Turner-Crawford is a native of Dallas County, Mo., where she grew up on her family’s farm. She is a graduate of Missouri State University. To contact Julie, call 1-866-532-1960 or by email at [email protected]