New program helps Missouri third graders understand agriculture

Missouri Famers Care promotes the continued growth of Missouri agriculture and rural communities. The organization strives to achieve this goal through coordinated communication among farmers, education and advocacy. It is a joint effort by a segment of Missouri’s farming and agriculture community to stand together for those who provide the food and jobs on which so many communities depend.

The first step in improving general knowledge about agriculture is educating the next generation. According to its website, the members of Missouri Farmers Care knew something had to be done when they found out many elementary students from urban and rural backgrounds believe their food comes from Walmart.

Missouri Farmers Care created Ag Education on the Move, an in-classroom, agriculture education 10-week program for third grade students across the state. Ag Education on the Move began in 2013 and is led by Luella Fischer.

The program has expanded the last three years. It has been such a success, the demand for the program is already outpacing the ability to supply intern-educators, according Fischer. With such an expansion of the program and new partnerships with leading Missouri universities, Missouri Farmers Care hopes to reach more students.

The goal of the program is to educate suburban and urban students, teachers, and parents about how the food they enjoy is raised and cared for by committed farmers from every corner of Missouri. The program trains intern-educators, who are often agricultural education students at Missouri universities, to teach third graders across the state about how their food is raised.

Amanda Smith, an agricultural education and leadership major at the University of Missouri, has worked with the program for two years in the Sweet Springs, Huntsville, Mexico and now Columbia school districts. She is currently at Alpha Hart Lewis Elementary School in Columbia, teaching five third-grade classrooms once a week.

“The students at the beginning of the 10-week program are so disconnected from where their food actually comes from,” Smith said. “It is so great to see these students begin to understand where and how their food comes to them.”

Because of that disconnect, the program tries to teach the students about all aspects of agriculture. They make ice cream, taste test milk and even learn how to ear notch a pig. These hands on activities are designed to spark interest in the students at an early age.

Madeiline Gebhardt’s class at Blue Ridge Elementary School has been part of the Ag Education on the Move program for the last few months.

“I think the information is applicable and valuable,” Gebhardt said. “It is a great experience for my students!”

The final lesson the students are taught is about careers and a review of the entire 10 weeks. During this lesson, the students show what they learned. They also have a conversation about agriculture, because they finally understand what it provides for them. Smith said all the agriculture jargon the students learn and correctly use amazes her.

“All the students think by the end of the program they can be the next Director of Agriculture,” Smith said. “I always leave the classroom thinking we all need to have more of a mindset of a driven third grader.”

Ag Education on the Move is expanding each year, sharing the story of agriculture with eager third graders. This early exposure to agriculture may be cultivating our next generation of agriculturalists, but only time will tell.

Robyn Eschenbrenner

About the Author Robyn Eschenbrenner

My passion for agriculture and the University of Missouri began at an early age. I was raised by two MU graduates on a row crop and livestock farm outside of Jamestown, Missouri. We raise primarily field crops, Brangus cattle and pumpkins. While my hometown, Jamestown, may not be marked on most maps, it helped shaped me into who I am today and it is a place where I am proud to call home. Growing up in the small town lifestyle allowed me to be involved in everything from sports to FFA. I fell in love with advocating for agriculture and being able to teach others about the importance of the industry.