Farming, Food and the Future

Fun fact: A study by the Innovation Centre of US Dairy revealed that 7% of American adults believe that chocolate milk comes from brown cows. This equates to 16.4 million people. That’s more than the populations of all the western Canadian provinces combined.

Sara Martin, Learning Specialist - This summer, I had an opportunity to take a course through the University of British Columbia called Agriculture in the Classroom. While on a field trip to a farm to speak to producers, I started to hear squealing.

At first, I thought there was an injury or a rodent sighting, but no. The squeals I was hearing were sounds of pure delight from a teacher who was picking carrots for the first time. She confessed she had no idea how carrots were grown, as it wasn’t something she ever thought about. This shouldn’t be surprising - a recent study revealed that some children and adults don’t know that pickles start as cucumbers or that chips begin as potatoes.

The disconnect and/or misconceptions about our food system could send me off to wax nostalgic about my childhood on the farm, where there was no mystery in the connection between the animals in the field and the roast in the oven. However, people who grew up in more of an urban environment may not have had an opportunity to experience the kind of real, hands-on learning I was so fortunate to be exposed to. That’s why it’s important that we look at how we can authentically link agriculture and curriculum, to help students unearth passions and interests they may not otherwise not have discovered. Social justice, sustainability, resource stewardship, technology, science and literature are a few of the pathways that can do this.

The stereotype of farmers being men in plaid shirts driving their tractors into the sunset needs to be debunked. My cousin and his family farm 7,000 acres in Ontario. Although I can’t confirm he doesn’t wear plaid, I know he does use several apps on his smartphone to track yields and equipment. He flies a Phantom 4 drone over his crops to check for insect damage and the right time to spray. This is not your grandpa’s hobby farm. He is using science, technology and business skills to stay profitable and at the forefront of a constantly developing and innovating industry. This constant innovation has made agriculture a burgeoning career field. The Ontario Agriculture College published a study stating that for each agriculture graduate there are four jobs waiting for them.

It is projected that in just a few decades, about 10 billion people will be living on the planet.

How will we feed this growing population with our finite resources? As of now, there is no planet B. The issues facing future generations will be solved with Ag-STEM* solutions, so it would be prudent to offer our learners STEM challenges through the lens of agriculture. We need our students to understand the serious issues they and future generations will face. Giving them the space and time to collaborate and be creative in the pressure-free and safe zone of school would be invaluable in helping them to prepare for entering the “real world”, where these issues are pressing and the solutions imperative.

If you have any projects, units, lessons, or pie in the sky ideas you want to chat about, agriculture or otherwise, let’s connect!

* Ag-STEM is a term used to describe the incorporation of agriculture with STEM as an interdisciplinary approach to education. This is not to be confused with AgriScience, the application of science to agriculture.

One image is a screenshot from my cousin showing the apps he uses to measure yield. It allows him to see the good and bad spots in the field and make a variable rate yield map for planting and fertilizing.

The other image is a farmer’s view from his tractor’s cab in 2018.