Photo credit: Heather Nash

There’s an evolving effort to inform teachers about food, agriculture and environmental sciences in order to help them expose students to those industries and possible career opportunities.

The inaugural Michigan Agriculture and Environmental Education Workshop in summer 2019 taught educators how to incorporate Michigan-specific agriculture and environmental lessons into their curricula. Collaborators leading the workshop include the Michigan Department of Agriculture & Rural Development (MDARD) and the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy.

“The most important reason MDARD supports this workshop is the need to attract young people to agriculture and the environmental sciences,” says Jeanne Hausler, workshop coordinator with MDARD. “At MDARD, more than half of the workforce is eligible to retire in the next five years, so the need is real, and the opportunities are plentiful.”

The pilot project’s overwhelmingly positive feedback prompted the departments to plan a significantly larger multiple-day academy for summer 2020. That event will include more curriculum materials, industry tours and expanded educational tracks incorporated into an overnight event to build camaraderie and networking opportunities.

See more: Cultivating a Passion for Ag Through Education

Bridging the Gap

The first workshop in 2019 reached its capacity of 60 educators, from school teachers to scout leaders. The educators earned six continuing education credits as they learned about agriculture and water quality during sessions on watersheds, sustainable school gardening, food safety, local foods in lunchrooms and careers in agriculture and environmental sciences.

“From MDARD’s perspective, we recognize there is a disconnect between many kids and adults in our state about where our food comes from,” Hausler says. “Learning about the industry can help bridge that gap. Agriculture and the environment go hand in hand. Farmers are the original stewards of the land and water in our state, and it’s important to tell their story.”

See more: How Michigan Agriculture Companies are Taking Innovation to the Next Level

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Presenter Jessica Wagenmaker left the workshop impressed by the level of enthusiasm and intentions of attendees to incorporate more lessons on agriculture and environmental sciences in their classrooms. For more than a decade, Wagenmaker, a middle school science teacher, has integrated environmental lessons into her curriculum using MEECS, formally known as the Michigan Environmental Education Curriculum Support. At the workshop, she taught a MEECS unit on water quality.

“I hope more teachers will take advantage of being able to go to this workshop,” says Wagenmaker, who teaches at Holton Middle School in Muskegon County. “For the first year, I think the organizers did a phenomenal job. I’m hoping that it does get bigger. These are topics that are important to all teachers.”

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