The largest student-run organization in the world is the National FFA, boasting a total of 649,355 members. With only 2 percent of the American population living on farms or ranches, it is reasonable to wonder how an organization devoted to agriculture pulls in such large numbers. The reality is, though, it needs to pull in many thousands more.
Agriculture, a word that brings to mind images of a farmer rising before the sun to tend to the fields or livestock, in today’s world, is much more complex than the stereotype.
The small number of people involved in hands-on agriculture creates a challenge for the industry as most consumers are far removed from the farm. That’s where agriculture education in high schools comes in.
Growing up in a rural area in northwest Missouri, agriculture was all around me. I never really felt a part of the industry, thought, until I joined FFA. I was one of many in the 98 percent of those removed from agriculture, but FFA and agricultural education changed my life forever.
Before I joined FFA, I was unaware of the daily practices of agriculture. Acronyms such as GMO, or words such as antibiotics, were a hot-topic, but I was unsure of why.
Agricultural education changed that.
So then, what exactly is agricultural education if it isn’t just about plows and cows?
FFA uses a three-circle model to explain its role in the classroom.
One circle stands for the classroom and laboratory instruction. This can range from learning about plant or animal science to urban agriculture or agriculture business.
The second circle stands for experiential learning. Students learn outside of the classroom through Supervised Agricultural Experience Programs or SAEs. These projects are very diverse and can include anything from working a placement job in agriculture to raising honeybees.
Finally, the third circle model stands for leadership, which is derived from FFA. Students can gain leadership by participating in speech contests or officer teams, to name a few.
The importance of agricultural education goes much further than just the classroom. The fact is, we need agriculture to survive. No matter your daily activity, you use efforts put forth by farmers or agriculturalists, whether that’s the fibers in your clothing or the food you consume. We need people to understand the importance of agriculture and stewardship, because our planet depends upon it.
Not only that, but according to the Missouri Department of Agriculture, Missouri’s largest industry is agriculture. Missouri’s agriculture economic impact is $88.4 billion. Agricultural education allows students to explore career options in this industry as well as prepare students for the work-force.
Before I became involved in agricultural education, I was unaware of careers in the agriculture industry. Agriculture reaches far beyond the farm, with jobs in biotechnology or genetic engineering, even natural resources. Like most high school students, I was undecided on what career I would hold.
Agricultural education changed that.
I became passionate about agriculture and its role in feeding our world. Even if agricultural education doesn’t spark a burning passion for all participants, it is still vital.
In today’s world, there are many misconceptions about where our food comes from and how animals are treated. If students in all schools were offered the chance to learn about agriculture in its many forms, there would be fewer misconceptions about farmers and more trust in them.
In a 2015 survey by Trace One, 68 percent of U.S. consumers said they aren’t provided with enough information about where their food comes from. If all students had the option of agricultural education, we could increase consumer knowledge about farming practices.
In today’s world, one farmer feeds 155 people, according to FarmersFeedUs.org. Pew Research Center found that in 2050, our world’s population is estimated to be 9.6 billion. With this jump in population, we need high school students to pursue careers in agriculture. We need more farmers, more researchers, and more agriculture advocates.
When I learned that every 10 seconds a child dies due to hunger-related diseases, I couldn’t help but want to get involved. It is my hope for the future that more Americans, whether they live in rural Missouri or Chicago, will have the opportunity to learn about agriculture. Not only will it benefit our nation and the 98 percent who are removed from farms, but also our world. We need more people to help lead the world fight against hunger, and that starts with agriculture education.