Farmland, animals and wide-open spaces are not only attractive to those from a small rural town; men and women from the fast-paced city life enjoy this environment as well. Many urban students are choosing to step away from their city roots and study agriculture.
“I have worked with a lot of kids throughout the years from St. Louis and Kansas City,” said Stephanie Chipman, MU College of Agriculture Food and Natural Resources Career Services Director.
In 2008, around 40 percent of CAFNR’s student enrollment was from urban and suburban regions. An area is considered suburban if the population is between 15,000 and 50,000, and urban if the population exceeds 50,000.
Since then, the percentage of CAFNR’s urban students has increased 15 percent.
In 2012, nearly 24 percent of the college’s incoming freshmen were from urban areas and almost 30 percent were from suburban areas. This means that almost 55 percent of the incoming 2012 class came from a city.
“Many choose to study agriculture because of the growing interest and questions about where their food comes from,” Chipman said.
Wanting to know more about the food system is not the only reason urban students are attracted to CAFNR, though. Sometimes the choice is all about economics.
“I chose to study agriculture because no matter the economic conditions, there will always be a large market for commodities,” said Reid Browning, an MU junior from Kansas City, Mo., studying agricultural economics.
Regardless of urban students’ reasons for pursuing agricultural degrees, the need for graduates with this expertise is increasing along with the world’s growing agricultural needs.
“There is fantastic opportunity in the ag sector with a diverse sum of majors to choose from and high chance for employment due to agriculture’s growing needs,” Chipman said.
CAFNR offers 17 degree programs for students to choose from with 25 different emphasis options. CAFNR majors include biochemistry, food science and nutrition, science and agricultural journalism, hospitality management, and agricultural economics. All CAFNR degree programs encourage exploration in sectors of the world’s essential needs, which is why agricultural growth is so important to sustain life.
Agriculture is a growing industry, and graduates from these programs help supply the world’s staples in almost every aspect, from food and clothing to researchers and doctors.
An article written by the USDA in 2010, Employment Opportunities for College Graduates, highlights the need for agricultural undergraduates in the future.
“The agriculture, food and renewable natural resource sectors of the U.S. economy will generate an estimated $54,400 annual salary for individuals with baccalaureate or higher degrees in food, renewable energy, and environmental specialties between 2010 and 2015,” said Allen D. Goecker, USDA. “Seventy-four percent of the jobs will be in business and science; 15 percent in agriculture forestry production; and 11 percent in education, communication and governmental services.”
CAFNR’s diverse offering of degree programs helps students find the niche that’s right for them.
“Having different majors to chose from made my choice to study agriculture that much easier,” Browning said. “As a motivated student, learning about farming and rural communities that I did not know as much about really intrigued me.”
The various emphasis areas in CAFNR are appealing to urban students because many do not understand agricultural processes, especially farming. While everyone uses agricultural products daily by eating, most people, especially those from urban and suburban areas, do not realize the hard work and challenges that go into being a farmer.
Undergraduate programs on campus are difficult regardless of your degree because of MU’s high academic standards. However, some students struggle more than others. Browning said he feels that he is at a disadvantage compared to other agriculture students from rural communities.
“Because I am from the city, sometimes I feel less knowledgeable about farming or agribusiness in my agricultural courses,” Browning said.
Browning mentioned that this did not bother him because he is a determined student and able to persevere through situations that are more difficult.
“It is important not to embrace just the traditional farmer because that would push all the urban students away,” Chipman said.
Chipman shared a time when she attended an agricultural conference and the speaker addressed the crowd as if they were all farmers saying, “I know we have all had early mornings on the farms or late nights riding the combine.”
Chipman disagrees with this practice, and also said she feels like many people from rural communities like to celebrate heritage in agriculture.
“I have learned a lot from the urban students I’ve met,” said Adam Beauchamp, an MU junior studying agricultural economics from Clarksville, Mo. “Our reasons to study agriculture are usually different, but I enjoy hearing about their lifestyle and comparing our city and rural experiences. ”