If these kids and their teachers have anything to do with it, Florida’s agriculture future is as bright as the state’s famous sunshine.
Florida agriculture education programs are not only preparing young people for careers in the industry, but teaching students to be stewards of the Sunshine State’s fertile soil.
“We’re teaching kids to develop an appreciation for where their food, fiber and fuel comes from,” says Lisa Gaskalla, executive director of Florida Agriculture in the Classroom, Inc., (FAITC). “Teachers and students are now several generations removed from the farm, so they’ve lost touch with the complicated processes that are involved in growing commodities that feed, clothe and shelter us, and that fuel our vehicles.”
Agriculture in the Classroom lessons, materials and workshops are driving that message home, striving to help young people understand just how complicated growing food is. FAITC aims to reach non-agriculture teachers and students in kindergarten through 12th grade classrooms with the message of the importance of agriculture, Gaskalla says. It does this by providing teachers with curricula, teacher workshops, grants and other programs that use real-life agriculture concepts to teach core subject areas such as language arts, math, science and social studies.
“While we have lessons on careers in agriculture, that is just one of many lessons that we provide teachers,” Gaskalla says. “But using real-life agriculture concepts to teach students these other subjects is a great way to make that lesson and those skills come alive.”
For example, she says, FAITC has a lesson that teaches students the complex chemical reaction that occurs in photosynthesis using puzzle pieces.
“It’s a great way to simplify how plants make their own food, and that plants are the only producers on the planet. Humans and animals are the consumers,” Gaskalla says. “Teachers and students who are exposed to these lessons become more sympathetic to the issues farmers face growing food.”
Outside of the classroom, kids are immersed in Florida ag in other ways. 4-H is the nation’s largest youth development organization, and the Florida 4-H Youth Development Program uses a hands-on approach to help youth gain the knowledge and life skills they need to be productive, responsible citizens.
Over 230,000 members across Florida are only one part of over 65 million young people across America who take advantage of this non-formal, practical education program. In partnership with the University of Florida Cooperative Extension service, Florida 4-H extends agriculture to rural youth.
The roots of 4-H began at the turn of the 20th century when progressive educators started to emphasize the needs of young people and introduce nature study as a basis for a better agricultural education. Boys and girls clubs and leagues were established in schools and churches to meet these needs.
Today, 4-H is the only youth development program with direct access to technological advances from university research.
Florida youth are well-poised to be future leaders in the agriculture industry, thanks to FFA (formerly known as Future Farmers of America), another influential and educational group for young agriculture leaders.
In middle school and high school agriculture classrooms throughout Florida, FFA members embrace concepts taught and use them to build valuable real-world skills through hands-on experiential learning.
“As an organization, our mission is to be an extension of the agriculture classroom and provide students with programming that builds their character and better prepares them for successful careers in the agriculture industry and beyond,” says Ronnie Simmons, executive director of the Florida FFA Association. “While we know that many of our students go on to college, we also know that many of them will go directly into the workforce. For that reason, we make every effort to provide students with life skills that will benefit them regardless of their career path.”
Today’s FFA has evolved in response to expanded opportunities available in agriculture and its need to hire skilled and competent employees for more than 300 careers. FFA helps students prepare for careers in business, marketing, science, communications, education, horticulture, production, natural resources, forestry and many other diverse fields.
“The Florida FFA Association started in 1929 and recently reached an all-time membership high with more than 17,000 FFA members throughout Florida,” Simmons says.