Editorial: Education about agriculture vital for all students

What one thing has had the most positive impact on your life?

If someone were to ask you this question, how would you answer? Some would say friends, others would say family, and some may even say education. My answer to this question actually combines all three of those components, and adds even more to the bundle.

I would say agricultural education.

This may seem like a very specific answer, but agricultural education has a broad realm of opportunities and can benefit any student who chooses to participate. All students should have access to agricultural education. But, some students may not have the chance to reap these benefits as funding cuts threaten agricultural education programs across the country. I believe agricultural education should be a program that schools work to keep because of the benefits to students, the school, the community, and our society today.

What makes agricultural education different than some other programs is the Three Circle Model mentality. These three circles, classroom instruction, supervised agricultural experience or SAE, and FFA combine to make agricultural education successful. Agricultural education is more than sitting in a classroom. It gives students skills and experiences they can use in their adult lives, no matter the career they choose to pursue.

One of the three circles, FFA, is a national organization with close to 600,000 members, which makes it the largest youth organization in the world. The National FFA website says there are more than 800,000 students from seventh grade and beyond participating in formal agricultural education in all 50 states and three U.S territories. But, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, there were 14.8 million students enrolled in Grades 9-12 in the United States this year. That leaves a lot of students who have never been exposed to agricultural education. From 2010 to now, membership has grown by almost 40,000 students, and I think we need to try our hardest to continue this growth so that every student goes out into the world with some basic knowledge of agriculture.

“Even if they don’t go into an ag career, they’ll be an ag consumer,” said Sarah Lambert, an agriculture teacher at Doland High School in South Dakota.  Lambert was interviewed for an article written by Kay Nguyen for the American News in Aberdeen, S.D.

Doland High School recently restarted their agriculture education program and FFA chapter this year after the programs were cut in 2000 because of lack of funding and a lack of interest. In a school with only 150 students, membership in their first year is 30 members.

“It prepares them to go into the workforce, period,” Jenna Dube, an agricultural department chair at Alvirne High School in New Hampshire, said in an article written by Cameron Kittle for The Telegraph in Nashua, N.H. “These kids are learning how to learn, how to problem-solve, how to work with people. It’s really key on those soft skills.”

The Alvirne FFA chapter, along with other New Hampshire agriculture programs, lost state support but is fighting to keep the program because the school district believes in the necessity and success of it. Faculty are even using money out of their own pockets to keep the program running because they believe in its importance to student success.

Personally, I credit agricultural education and The National FFA Organization with developing me into the person I am today. I gained skills in public speaking, a knowledge and passion for the agriculture industry, connections with many people I never would have met otherwise and goals for my future. I am more confident, professional and motivated than I would have been without participation in agricultural education.

But I have a background in agriculture, so some people would expect this success. My father is an agriculture teacher. My mother was a State FFA Officer from 1981 to 1982. You could say agriculture and FFA run in my blood.

But not all agricultural education and FFA success stories look like mine.

Susan Bishop is currently a freshman music education major at Central Methodist University in Fayette, Mo., and is a 2013 graduate of Fayette High School. She did not grow up on a farm and wasn’t involved in agriculture before high school, though she did live in a small town. But Susan was Fayette FFA’s Chapter President her junior year of high school, and the Area IV FFA Association’sFirst Vice President her senior year. She was the State High Individual in the Entomology competition, Fourth High Individual in the State Horse Evaluation competition and also the Fourth High Individual in the State FFA Job Interview competition.

While she is currently a music education major, Susan has considered switching to agriculture education because she misses it so much and has developed a passion for the agriculture industry. She is talented in both fields, and I am sure she will find a way to integrate both into her future.

Susan went from a terribly shy freshman with very little self-confidence to a high school graduate who is a confident young woman not afraid to share her knowledge of agriculture with those who have not had the privilege to experience what she has.

I think we could call Susan Bishop a success.

There are many other stories of success like Susan’s and mine. I believe there could be many, many more stories like these if more school districts invested in agricultural education. The return on investment is well worth it, and we could have a more informed society of producers and consumers.

Agriculture is an essential industry. We cannot live without it. And it involves so much more than what many people think. There are more than 200 career possibilities in agriculture, and there are more and more job openings in agriculture each year with not enough college graduates to fill them.

The time to invest in agricultural education, for the future of students and our society, is now.