The future of Colorado’s agriculture industry rests on the shoulders of its youth. Thankfully, several agricultural education programs within the state are preparing them for the responsibility of carrying the industry forward.
Colorado Agriculture in the Classroom
Administered by the Colorado Foundation for Agriculture, the Colorado Agriculture in the Classroom program helps teachers and students connect to food, fiber, fuel and natural resources through classroom materials.
“One of the staples of the program is the Colorado Reader, which is an eight-page student activity newsletter geared toward four through six grade students to teach current, accurate information about agriculture,” says Jennifer Scharpe, executive director for the Colorado Foundation for Agriculture.
She explains that the Readers are distributed six times throughout the school year in classroom sets with an educator’s guide, so teachers can use them while teaching core subjects such as math, science, social studies and language arts. Readers are mailed to 1,800 classrooms across the state.
“Besides the Colorado Reader program, we have other programs and resources, including five different activity books,” Scharpe says. “They’re designed to increase the level of understanding on a particular topic,” which include water, cattle in Colorado history, wool and sheep, eggs, and more.
Scharpe says that all of the resources provided through Agriculture in the Classroom are helping to advance agricultural literacy in schools.
“It is said that today’s youth are at least four generations removed from a farm or ranch,” she says. “Today’s youth have many misconceptions about agriculture – such as brown cows make chocolate milk, that farming is an antiquated practice or that food comes from a grocery store. The Agriculture in the Classroom program seeks to improve awareness, knowledge and appreciation around food, fiber, fuel and natural resources.”
The Colorado FFA program allows high school students to dive deeper into agricultural education and prepare for future careers in the industry.
“We have a little over 7,000 FFA members in our state and 125 high school programs, which equates to about 145 teachers,” says Kenton Ochsner, state FFA advisor. “We’ve been growing very steadily and there is an increasing interest and demand for ag education in urban areas. People want to know and understand where their food comes from, and they want students to be able to get their hands dirty and learn how to grow a plant.”
The program is part of the National FFA Organization, which aims to not only give students hands-on experience in agriculture, but also instill in them life skills such as responsibility, leadership, public speaking and work ethic, among others. These skills are imparted through leadership and competitive events, as well as Supervised Agricultural Experiences, or SAEs, which allow students to have a hands-on learning opportunity, no matter what their career path may look like.
See more: Creation of the FFA Creed
“We try to make sure we’re providing students with quality leadership education,” Ochsner says. “Leadership is a broad term, but making sure they can communicate effectively, learn how to handle themselves, be responsible and show up on time, and have a good work ethic is all part of it.”
He adds that for Colorado specifically, the program is paramount for improving agricultural literacy and making sure all people – even outside of FFA – understand what is happening with agriculture.
Part of the Colorado State University Extension, the Colorado 4-H program began more than a century ago with a mission to teach young people leadership, citizenship and life skills with a strong focus on agriculture. 4-H serves youth in rural, urban and suburban communities in every state of the country. Young people can join 4-H at age 5 as a Cloverbud and continue through age 18, participating through clubs, after-school programs and camps.
4-H programs and competitions encompass traditional agriculture subjects such as beef, poultry, gardening and horses, as well as creative projects including cake decorating and ceramics, and innovative technology topics such as robotics, small engines and model rocketry.
Together, all three programs effectively improve the present and future of Colorado agriculture, providing information, lessons and skills that will benefit the state for years to come.
See more: 4-H and FFA Set Youth Up for Success