Connecting farming and food choices in the classroom
I speak and write about food and agriculture. My kids are exposed to agriculture thanks to my family's farm. They're active in 4-H, too. This past week, my third grader, Elizabeth, came home from school asking about organic versus conventional fa...
I speak and write about food and agriculture. My kids are exposed to agriculture thanks to my family's farm. They're active in 4-H, too. This past week, my third grader, Elizabeth, came home from school asking about organic versus conventional farming and food. I listened intently when she asked, "So organic matter in soil is for organic farming? And organic doesn't spray, right? When there is an organic label on food, is it healthier?"
I didn't know where to start to answer her barrage of questions. This generation we're raising is receiving mixed messages from confusing labels and loud, misinformed voices that aren't based on science or food choices. Rather than only sit down with Elizabeth, I sent a message to her teacher asking if I could give a presentation to the class. I was looking forward to the challenge because if my own child is confused about farming practices and food terminology, I'm sure there are others too. The teacher agreed to the idea.
When an opportunity like this comes up, my intention isn't to start an organic versus conventional food and farming debate. There are poor people, affluent people and those of us in the middle - and we all need food and fiber choices. We need farmers to raise a variety of crops using a variety of production and management methods.
My farming friends and the local elevator gave me samples of wheat, corn, soybean, durum and sunflowers. I also had treated corn, soybeans and durum seed from friends and brought black beans from my parent's farm. Then I went shopping in my pantry and at my local grocery store for items to showcase crops grown in our area and the foods you and I enjoy to eat.
I displayed the crops and food for my presentation on the front table of the third grade classroom. We went through each crop, talking about GMO, non-GMO, organic farming, food and label options. The students were engaged and soaking in the facts on an array of food choices. They asked a lot of questions.
Living in a rural area you might expect our kids to be more connected to farming. However, many are just as removed from farming and food production as urban kids.
The students wanted to know about field corn versus sweet corn. They asked about soybean varieties that are used for non-GMO soymilk and the 96 percent of GMO soybeans that are used to feed food animals. I also shared these stats:
• One farmer feeds an average of 155 people.
• People working in production agriculture are less than 2 percent of the population.
• The average farmer in the U.S. is about 60 years old, or as I said, about the age of Elizabeth's grandpa and my dad.
We also discussed the variety of agriculture and food careers they might be interested in someday and the demand for people to work in the agriculture industry.
After 45 minutes, the Wishek third grade kids had wiped me out! I was tired yet inspired by their interest in food choices and farming.
Elizabeth came home and said, "I could be a meat scientist or a researcher to make seeds better!"
I said, "Yes! What is the most interesting thing you learned today?"
She said, "Twizzlers are made out of corn syrup and wheat and you let us all eat Twizzlers."
I said, "And anything else?"
She replied, "Well, Mom. I'm still a little confused about GMO seeds but I understand more now. Biotechnology protects crops from bugs and disease."
I chalked up her observations as a mom win.
The next morning, Elizabeth came down the stairs and said, "Mom! I am changing my career." Up until that point, she wanted to attend the University of North Dakota to get her doctorate degree to be a physical or occupational therapist. Elizabeth has always been a girl with a plan.
"OK, what have you chosen now?" I asked.
"I want to be a full-time teacher in Wishek. You can come to my classroom every year to talk about agriculture," she replied.
She started her kindergarten year with a goal of being a teacher. Maybe she will become an agriculture education teacher someday.
I fail at times connecting my own kids to food choices and how food is grown by farmers all around us. I learned with a little planning I can connect with kids in a fun environment, such as school, with hands-on, engaging activities and a few crop and food samples. In the past, visiting classrooms has not been a focus of mine but I know many programs and people who do make that a priority.
After seeing Elizabeth and her classmates' eagerness to learn, I will volunteer again and bring Twizzlers.