As the population of the United States has transitioned from a predominantly agrarian society to an increasingly more urban one, our youth have become detached from a fundamental understanding of agriculture. Nonetheless, we benefit from the innovations and efficiencies of our food supply on a daily basis.
USDA’s Agriculture in the Classroom (AITC) Program promotes agricultural literacy among the nation’s K-12 students. This is accomplished by a network of AITC programs located across the country that serve nearly 5 million students and 60,000 teachers through workshops and other teaching activities each year. AITC provides resources that incorporate other subjects, such as mathematics, language arts, history, and chemistry, into learning experiences that correspond to state academic standards. Agricultural literacy is fundamental to the development of the next generation of scientists, teachers, and policy-makers to ensure a sufficient food supply for the world’s inhabitants.
One example of a state AITC program is that of Minnesota.
Minnesota AITC was initiated in 1985 as a unique public/private partnership between the Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA) and the private sector. A non-profit foundation secures monetary donations from a wide variety of agriculture organizations and businesses to fund materials development and distribution to students and teachers. State Agriculture Departments like ours in Minnesota provide program continuity and credibility within the education community, direct access to many content specialists on staff, and a public service commitment to a broad spectrum of clients in agriculture.
The flagship educational publication of Minnesota AITC is the popular series AgMag, which is published three times per school year and used mostly in grades 4-6. AgMag’s features and short articles are centered on three main themes:
- Agriculture is Everywhere;
- Agriculture, the Land, and You!; and
- Caring for our Natural Resources.
Many state AITC programs partner with the expanding network of Farm to School programs. In Minnesota, the Farm to School movement has really taken off in the last two years. A recent survey showed 69 Minnesota school districts purchased Minnesota-grown foods in 2009.
Minnesota’s Farm to School program is targeted at school food service directors, but an effort has been made to provide classroom enrichment, too. A handy online toolkit has been developed that links the “Three C’s”: commodity, cafeteria, and classroom. Information on procurement, recipes, and classroom activities are just a few of the items included in the toolkit. From Apples to Wild rice, children love learning about their local agricultural products – then seeing those products in their school lunch. We hope Ag in the Classroom brings young Minnesotans closer to their food, farms, and the agricultural bounty of our great state.