Guest Opinion: Ag education is important
On behalf of the Woodford County Farm Bureau, the county's largest civic organization, I want to express our support for continued agriculture education in Woodford County. Due to the recent discussions, meetings and impending vote by the Woodford County Middle School Site-Based Decision Making Council to dismiss the agriculture program teacher and ultimately eliminate the agriculture education program and the FFA chapter at the middle school, I am here to answer the imperative question, "Why is agriculture education important?" Agriculture education is the teaching of food, natural resources, and land management through hands-on experiences and guidance and is delivered through three interconnected components - classroom instruction, experiential learning, and leadership education. Agriculture education prepares students for successful careers and a lifetime of informed choices in the global agriculture, food, fiber and natural resource systems. Agriculture education is much more than whether chocolate milk comes from brown cows or if green beans comes from the grocery store. Agriculture education builds a strong foundation in leadership, networking, problem-solving, career services and personal growth. It provides an opportunity for individuals to understand that agriculture is not just production-based, it is a sustainable way of life. Agriculture education should be in every school, but it isn't. The importance of agriculture education curricula spreads beyond the classroom - we need agriculture to survive. If you eat, wear clothes, take medicine, live in a house or write with a pencil, you need agriculture. Each agriculture education program in the U.S. is unique with courses ranging from agriculture business, animal science, horticulture, mechanics, engineering and leadership development and many others. Each pathway strives to advance agriculture technology and sustainability to improve the world in which we live. Regardless of a student's interest, agriculture education instructors help students understand the importance of what they are learning in authentic, meaningful ways. Furthermore, agriculture education sparks new student interests, opening the door for students to discover potential future careers. Why is career preparation and planning so important for our students in agriculture education? The food and agriculture industry from fork to farm employs more than 15 million Americans, with the U.S. food and beverage industry alone representing 12 percent of all U.S. manufacturing. This is the largest manufacturing employer in the manufacturing industry. The U.S. agriculture industry has improved the nutrition and well-being of generations of American families and is one of the nation's most efficient and competitive industries. While most students will not have a production background, they will still be able to understand the depth of the industry and make a difference. Where and how will they gain this understanding? Only in agriculture education classes and programs like FFA will students have the opportunity to develop the understanding necessary for the U.S. to remain world leaders in agriculture. The National FFA Organization is the largest youth-led organization in the nation. Today, more than 600,000 members across the U.S. are working hard to advance our nation's most valuable industry -agriculture. Through FFA and the agriculture program, students can participate in leadership conferences, hands-on projects, educational field trips, contests and meetings that propel and train them for the future. Through programs like FFA, students not only meet new friends, but foster and promote self-confidences and potential. They gain a genuine interest in life-long learning regardless of background or goals. Although many in our community don't wear their FFA jackets as often as they used to, that doesn't mean they have forgotten the impact of the organization and agriculture education has had on their lives. You may be surprised, but several prominent U.S. figures once wore the blue and gold - Jim Davis, "Garfield" creator; Chris Johns, editor-in-chief of National Geographic Magazine; Jimmy Carter, former U.S. President and Nobel Prize winner; Nicholas Kristof, Pulitzer Prize winning columnist for The New York Times; and Taylor Swift, pop and country singing sensation to name just a few. We need to foster genuine, lifelong learning for all students, regardless of their background or future goals - there is something in agriculture education and FFA for everyone. We must work together to send forth empowered and versatile life-long learners, capable of successfully navigating to this ever-changing world and its myriad of complex and emerging challenges. With a growing population and a demand to feed over nine billion people by 2050, the agriculture industry needs an abundance of talented, driven and passionate youth willing to make a commitment to agriculture. Please encourage the Woodford County Middle School Site-Based Decision Making Council to vote "no" to eliminating one of the most important and prominent programs in our county. By keeping agriculture education, we will be helping our students develop the values of character, conscience, civility, citizenship and an appreciation of diversity and social responsibility that agriculture education and the FFA instill each day. The Woodford County Middle School Site-Based Decision Making Council is scheduled for Monday, March 20, at 5:15 p.m. I encourage everyone to join us to show their support for such an imperative program.