Ag Education Becomes Key Catalyst for Engaging the Public
By Julie Murphree, Arizona Farm Bureau Ag Education Director
It’s one thing when your next door neighbor has misconceptions about agriculture; it’s downright scary when the vast majority of incorrect understandings of agriculture is emerging within our own FFA and 4-H ranks. And, yes, we can blame some of it on an urbanized population.
In fact, by 2050, almost seventy-five percent of the world’s population will be Urban. Most will have no contact with the source of their food ? other than eating it. For you and me in agriculture then our communication task becomes challenging. We must help our neighbors understand where their food comes from and understand the production methods used.
While activists opposed to traditional methods of farming have effectively co-opted our message that doesn’t mean we cannot take it back. Momentum is mounting and the agriculture community is surging in their efforts to give clear, interesting, entertaining and valuable messages about American agriculture.
And what we’ve discovered is that some of our message has to be brought right to FFA and 4-H youth.
A Quick Recap of Arizona Farm Bureau’s Ag Education Goals and Objectives
This last school year and going into the 2010/2011 school year, AZFB’s Agriculture Education area set a goal of a 10% increase in people reached. But we also wanted to reach more middle and high school students.
All of Arizona’s 13 Farm Bureau county organizations are now participating in agriculture education activities. Over 43,000 unduplicated students, teachers and adults were reached in the second year of the Ag in the Classroom Program. This marked a 56-percent increase over last year and greatly exceeded our 10% goal. The program increased its presence in the Middle Schools and High Schools over its first year by 109%.
Our 109% increase in middle school and high school students came in two ways. First, we participated for the first time in Jobing.com’s Career Fair Day where they draw nearly 10,000 eighth-grade students for a one-day interactive discovery day to help them discover their career interests. Carefully counting each student that came by, 6,200 8th grade students engaged in hands-on agriculture activities that included animal, mechanical and agricultural science activities at our booth.
Secondly, we’ve begun a misconceptions presentation for high school students.
Even FFA and 4-H Members Get it Wrong
Some background: In an effort to determine what Arizona’s FFA and 4-H members know about agriculture we held an essay contest earlier in the year. Students, depending on their grade level, were asked to write a research paper on one of three topics 1) conventional versus organic production 2) factory farms in Arizona and 3) local food. Students were told that they needed to include where they got their information and were given a variety of credible sources to use.
Overall, 80 essays were submitted. Many of them included the same misconceptions about agriculture that are held by the general public. Students spoke about mistreatment of animals on “factory farms,” the horrible chemicals producers put on their crops, producers mistreating animals, and that people should spend the few extra dollars for organic food to prevent the medical bills they will have later as a result of eating conventionally grown food. Sources that were identified in students’ essays included HSUS, PETA, and greenpeace.org.
U of A Helps Us Measure Results
As a result of the findings in the essay contest, Ag Education Manager, Katie Aikins, created a Misconceptions of Agriculture presentation for High School students. The presentation is 50-minutes in length and addresses the hidden agendas of animal rights groups, as well as addresses the misconceptions held by the FFA and 4-H members. The presentation is offered to agricultural education classrooms across the state and several classes have already been reached.
The University of Arizona caught wind of the findings of the essay contest and the Misconceptions Presentations. As a result, we’re close to completing a research project designed by U of A focusing on the perceptions students have about agriculture that’s given prior to receiving the presentation and then after the presentation is given. Early results have shown that students do have a positive shift in many of the perceptions of the agricultural industry after the Misconceptions presentation. Some classes showed a 75% positive shift about agriculture. Watch for the January 2011 issue of Arizona Agriculture for a full report on the study results.
The tremendous value of this effort is the measurable results we’ll gain in terms of shifting individuals’ perception of modern agriculture to a more positive outlook.
As a team, we’re committed to measuring results and assessing whether we’re not only getting our message out, but transforming the way the public thinks about agriculture.
I’m personally very excited about these results. I spent one morning with Katie as she gave these presentations and was encouraged by how the high schools students responded to the presentation. And now we have a way to measure the results.
Editor’s Note: Want to help us as we continue to erase agriculture’s misconceptions? Donate online to the Arizona Farm Bureau Educational Farming Company at /programs/farmingcomp/. Every dollar counts!