CP editorial: Bridging the gap starts in youth development programs

In the agriculture industry, bridging the gap refers to the process of connecting farmers to consumers, allowing consumers to have a better understanding of where their food comes from. We can also look at this as a way to connect rural and urban areas, or breaking communication barriers.

On April 14, 2015, a group of 17 4-H members with the National 4-H Conference met with the House Committee on Agriculture on the importance of agriculture and the future of the industry.   

According to U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Ill., chair of the House subcommittee on Biotechnology, Horticulture and Research, bridging the gap between rural and urban areas is essential to the passage and implementation of future food and agricultural legislation.

“Through exposure to agricultural education, we can develop a culture of agriculture advocacy in today’s youth and grow the rural/urban relationships,” Davis said.

Through positive youth development programs, such as 4-H and FFA, young people gain opportunities to enhance their skill sets to promote the future of the agriculture industry. They have the chance to bridge the gap between rural and urban communities.

Both programs provide the opportunity for members to participate in Missouri State Fair activities, a long-time advocate for youth in agriculture.

According to Cassandra Jessee, director of the U.S. Agency for International Development YouthPower Learning, positive youth development is both a philosophy and an approach. It is a way of understanding young people that helps guide the design of youth-serving programs and the creation of youth opportunities.

Youth development programs focus on four important components: physical and psychological safety, supportive adult relationships, skill building and engagement not only in activities but in program design, implementation and evaluation, according to Jessee. 

There are nearly 6 million total participants in 4-H each year, according to the national office, with 1.8 million from urban areas, 1.6 million from suburban areas and 2.6 million from rural communities. Through 4-H, youth build skills in project areas of their interest, ranging from science and technology to agriculture and much more. 

In some counties, youth present their projects at the county fair level. While working on projects, youth are presented with pressing issues within the field and enhance their skills, allowing them to discuss topics with others, or bridge the gap.

Agricultural education programs are partnered with the National FFA Organization in high schools across the country. Through FFA, students participate in Supervised Agricultural Experiences, or SAE projects, similar to the 4-H allowing students to have hands-on experience in agriculture.

The mission of the FFA is to make a positive difference in the lives of students by developing their potential for premier leadership, personal growth and career success through agricultural education.

As a former active member of 4-H and FFA, my agricultural path was jumpstarted at an early age. It progressed into following both a higher education and a career path that would allow me the opportunity to continue the conversation and help bridge the gap. Being a member of youth development programs helped me to engage in the industry and have a better understanding of how I can personally make a difference. Now as a senior at MU, I hope to be able to take what I have learned to connect consumers to their food and share the story of American agriculture.   

Positive youth development programs are not only allowing students the opportunity to build the skills it takes to break communication barriers, but to be educators on pressing topics within the industry. By ensuring that our youth are engaged in the industry today allows for reassurance that the industry itself will thrive tomorrow.

Maggie Glidewell

About the Author Maggie Glidewell

I got my first glimpse of agriculture looking through the ears of my American Quarter Horse. I quickly learned there is much more to this industry than crops and cows. My name is Maggie Glidewell, no it’s not short for Margaret, and I am currently a senior majoring in agricultural education and leadership with emphasis areas in marketing and journalism. I hope to take the skills that I have learned at Mizzou and pursue a career in informal education and youth development, working to build up and shape the minds of the future of our industry.