Ag education centers around the state hope to inspire young people to purse careers in agriculture

There is a “talent shortage” in agriculture with more career opportunities and fewer young people pursuing those careers, according to the AgGrad website. Agricultural education centers are popping up around Missouri with a goal of increasing awareness and providing education and hands-on learning opportunities for children and adults who have little knowledge of agricultural practices.  

Where Pigs Fly Farm, located in Linn, Missouri, is renovating from a petting zoo and pig museum to become an agriculture and pig museum with an agricultural education building. The farm already has a pig museum with over 40,000 collectable pigs in a variety of forms — including trinkets, pictures, cookie jars, stuffed animals, ceramic and metal pigs. The museum houses the second largest pig collection in the world. The farm owners plan to renovate a barn on the property into the agriculture museum and education center. It will be called “Oinkin’ Hall.” Visitors will experience a self-guided tour of Oinkin’ Hall and learn about the history of farming, what is happening today in farming, and jobs available in the farming industry. 

“Our goal is to educate and spark the interest of children … to potentially discover future careers in farming and ranching,” said Cindy Brenneke, owner of Where Pigs Fly Farm. The USDA predicts the world will need to increase food production by 70% by 2050, and accomplishing that will require more people to become involved in agriculture. Career areas include crop breeders, farmers, scientists and promoters of agriculture.

According to the USDA website, “The world’s greatest challenge may be educating the needed labor to replace the aging American farmer and the skilled workers and scientists needed to support the sustainable growth in agricultural production.”

Where Pigs Fly Farm is taking on this challenge by making the farm fun, hands-on, and educational. In addition to the museum, visitors can also interact with various farm animals while they learn more about them.

“It’s a good, positive experience that leaves them wanting to come back and learn more,” Brenneke said.

Jefferson Farm and Garden is an agriculture education center, in Columbia, Missouri, owned by the University of Missouri. Jefferson Farm and Garden takes a hands-on approach to teaching the community about agriculture. It hosts workshops where community members can get hands-on help with gardening and farming tasks. Jefferson Farm promotes sustainable agricultural practices, environmental awareness, natural resource management, and high-quality care for livestock. The people who work and volunteer at Jefferson Farm put a lot of time into teaching students of all ages, ranging from elementary to high school students.

“Jefferson Farm takes a hands-on approach with school kids,” said Tim Reinbott, director of Jefferson Farm and Garden. “We have animals there for the students to see, touch and pet and we have a baby and the adult of every animal, so the kids can see them in both stages.” Visitors to the farm can also learn about pollinators, and they have opportunities to catch insects. This hands-on approach helps children learn how to perform a task by doing it, which can spark their interest, and then they can practice the skill at home.

“Our main goal at the farm is to try and inspire students to go into agriculture and to go into the sciences,” Reinbott said.

With such a small percentage of the population having any connection to agriculture, let alone actually living on a farm, there is a large demand in the ag sector for employees with basic knowledge of agricultural practices.

“So many people are two- or three-plus generations removed from the farm and they are so far removed, that they just don’t have any knowledge of agriculture,” Reinbott said. “For example, manure, it can be a fertilizer or a pollutant, it’s just all in how you use it, and many people do not know that.”

There is a growing concern among many at the lack of young people with backgrounds and interests in food and fiber production. They see the need for younger generations to join the work force and to help feed the growing world population. 

“Marshall Stewart, who is the vice chancellor of extension, set three goals for the extension employees, one of which was getting more seniors to go into ag majors in college,” said John Gulick, county engagement specialist for Osage County. This was not aimed only at recruiting students to MU. The goal was to encourage any senior high school student to attend any college and major in an agriculture field.  

“Cindy, at Where Pigs Fly Farm, is doing her part to help reach this goal,” Gulick said. “She is promoting many different ag programs from all over the state at multiple colleges in her new building, Oinkin’ Hall.”

Many individuals have been involved in the transformation of the old barn into an inviting museum. Six MU students volunteered during the 2018 spring break, and helped clean out and organize the building.

In addition, people from different colleges and universities have sent promotional information and handouts about their ag-related programs, and volunteers have put in many hours organizing and moving items around in the building.

“The part that really impressed me was all of the people that had already volunteered,” Gulick said.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics states that completing a degree at a college of agriculture is important in securing a career in the ag sector. Currently, one in 12 American jobs is dependent on agriculture. With agriculture education centers such as Jefferson Farm and Garden, and Where Pigs Fly, more young Missourians may be inspired to consider a career in this industry critical to the world.