March 18, 2012

Getting agriculture into the classroom

I grew up with multiple connections to agriculture. As the son of a veterinarian, I looked forward to riding along on farm calls to help care for sick or injured farm animals.

The smells of disinfectant, silage and cow manure became the aromas that today bring back memories of the experiences that filled my childhood. I watched the birth of dozens of calves and held untold numbers of milk-fever treatment bottles above my head while the IV slowly dripped.

On top of that, I had two uncles who were dairy farmers. Summers and vacations were spent in barns full of cows, riding tractors and poking around every nook and cranny of old barns and rocky pastures.

Learning about farming and agriculture wasn't a chore back then, it was an adventure.

Today's youth rarely have the opportunity to experience agriculture the way I did.

With fewer and fewer kids growing up on working farms, there is less opportunity for the hands-on education that was more common in the past. If you had relatives who farmed, chances are likely that you would be recruited for summer haying, helping with milking chores and learning about how much hard work farming takes. In today's world, this lack of personal connection has made it harder for youth to understand and appreciate how farmers produce food and fiber.

And because most farms today are owned by individuals or family businesses, it is much harder for them to share their stories and have a voice in the education of today's non-farming majority.

Introducing agriculture as a topic in schools across New York has been the mission of the New York Agriculture in the Classroom program since 1985. Agriculture in the Classroom is a partnership of Cornell University, the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets, the New York State Education Department, Cornell Cooperative Extension and the New York Farm Bureau.

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