Long gone are the days when working in agriculture only meant you tended to livestock or harvested crops. The modern agriculture industry encompasses so much more, from technology and engineering to marketing and communications. Several Ohio programs are working to provide resources to students and others who are interested in a career in agriculture, while at the same time creating a skilled pipeline of labor for the industry.
Future Grows Here
The Future Grows Here program, part of Inspire PR Group, was launched in 2019 to educate students, young adults and their families about innovative career opportunities in farming and agriculture.
“The initiative was born from the idea that the food production and agriculture industry is in desperate need of young, creative minds,” says Hinda Mitchell, president of Inspire PR Group, a supporter of the initiative. “We wanted to reframe the narrative around these jobs, create excitement for them and engage a broader and more diverse group of job seekers.”
Mitchell says the program was established by a group of Ohio food and agriculture organizations. After educating young adults on the benefits of a career in agriculture, they connect them with top employers in those fields.
To engage job seekers, the program highlights specific jobs and shows case studies of people who actually do those jobs, demonstrating the benefits and advancement opportunities.
“The Future Grows Here digital platforms feature links to our partners’ career webpages, which will continue to grow as the initiative gains industry support,” Mitchell says. She adds that the program is a purely educational resource and connector, which is why it directs to company pages versus hosting career postings on its own page.
Though the program is still in its infancy, Mitchell says the team is excited to begin growing its presence at conferences and begin developing relationships with educators who can use the program’s resources in classrooms. She says the program
is expected to expand beyond Ohio as well.
Similar to Future Grows Here, the GrowNextGen.org website, founded by the Ohio Soybean Council and EducationProjects.org, is inspiring science teachers to use agriculture in biology, chemistry and environmental science classes, and to help students understand
the career possibilities in agriculture-related areas.
“There is a disconnect between agriculture and the general consumer,” says Jane Hunt, project manager for the Ohio Soybean Council Educational Outreach Program. “We want to reach teachers so they can help students understand the wide array of career possibilities, many STEM-related, within the agricultural field.”
Free teacher workshops are offered that give teachers the materials to complete activities from the website in their classrooms. Hunt says the workshops vary in topic, ranging from biotechnology, which is co-sponsored by Pioneer, to one-day workshops and farm visits sponsored by other ag groups such as Ohio State University’s Waterman Agricultural and Natural Resources Laboratory.
See more: Teaching Kids About Ohio’s Pork Farms
“Our most popular training is a one-day training called ChickQuest,” Hunt says. “It’s a 4-H program that teaches elementary teachers how to incubate and hatch chicks in the classroom. It’s offered in partnership with Meyer Hatchery in Polk, and we’ve trained about 1,200 teachers over the past seven years.”
Ohio’s soybean farmers have invested in this education program because they understand the value of educating teachers about how food is produced and the value of the agriculture industry.
“One in seven people have a job that is directly related to agriculture. Many of these jobs require advanced degrees in plant science, computer science and technology, engineering, biology and more,” Hunt says.
“Most students don’t even consider a career in agriculture even though they may be considering some of these majors.”
Youth Pathways to Careers in Agriculture
The Ohio Farm Bureau Federation is helping the cause as well. In 2018, they launched a Youth Pathways Initiative that focuses on introducing students to and training them for careers in food, agriculture and environmental sciences. A total of $85,000 was awarded to two nonprofit organizations, the Greene County Farm Bureau and the Ohio FFA Foundation. Both of these organizations are developing programming to introduce students to agricultural career opportunities.
Also in 2018, the Farm Bureau launched ExploreAg, a camp experience for high schoolers that teaches them the science behind food and agriculture, and about careers that are available through a partnership with Ohio State University Extension.
“Through ExploreAg, we hope to provide both an intensive experience, as well as one that continues to engage students as they explore career opportunities throughout high school and even college,” says Chris Baker, executive director of the Ohio Farm Bureau Foundation. “In addition to the summer camp experiences, students will have opportunities to participate in up to 10 mini-clinics delivered by Foundation partners each year.”
Baker says that from an industry standpoint, if space isn’t created for young people and beginner farmers to be a part of the industry, that generation and population is further removed from the rural way of life.
“That’s why Youth Pathways and ExploreAg are important projects,” he says.