Creating a Pipeline for Food & Ag Careers Starts in Elementary School

school girl w leaf and mag glassA strong food and agricultural science education system is important for many reasons. The current release of the AGree paper titled Food and Agricultural Education in the United States highlights the need for parents, educators and policy makers to advocate for the inclusion of food and agricultural science throughout classrooms at all grade levels.

Food and agriculture are science. Biology, chemistry, all of the life sciences, math and reading are key ingredients necessary to understand our food and agriculture system. Deliberate integration of food and agricultural science into classrooms, no matter the grade level, will support food and agricultural literacy and an understanding of where and how food, fiber, feed and fuel evolves from dirt to the dinner plate. Making the connections between fundamental science and how it can be tied to the food on the grocery store shelf should be a focus in lower grades.

Currently most elementary classrooms spend approximately 30 minutes a week on science. However, science can be woven into the fabric of other topics. Changing the curriculum framework to include a food and agriculture focus is one solution. While not everyone needs to know the intricacies of soil science, everyone needs to eat. By addressing the fundamental problem of food security and making food science a common theme throughout PreK-8, students will have a greater understanding of how food is produced. It may also intrigue some of them enough to consider becoming a grower or to pursue other food- and agriculture-related careers.

Our greatest need is filling the work force pipeline. There is a large and growing deficit of scientists in the food and agricultural space. Whether it is food scientists, agronomists, molecular engineers or chemists, more students need to be aware of the amazing opportunities available to them and the ability to help confront one of the world’s greatest challenges – food security and meeting the food and fiber needs of a growing global population.

We have to start young. If a student is not interested in science by the third grade, it is unlikely that student will pursue a science career. Teachers need to have the tools and appropriate continuing education to be able to effectively incorporate science across the curriculum and to engage students in scientific pursuits. Industry partners can aid in the development and deployment of that training to clearly show the linkage between the science being taught, the myriad of career opportunities that are available in food and agriculture, and the science needed to feed 9 billion people.

The landscape of science changes quickly and the number of careers based on a strong science education is growing. By deliberately weaving food and agricultural science into the fabric of our education system, we can confront the food security challenge and provide rewarding careers for the next generation.

Robin Habeger is the Academic Outreach Manager for DuPont

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