The Planted Row: Ag classes should be required

Farm Forum

A democracy relies upon an informed populace. It’s a simple fact. If people have the power to vote and help make decisions for their society, how do we make sure they make good decisions? We do it by making sure they are informed. You can’t make good decisions unless you have the facts.

However, there’s a little hiccup. We get information from lots of different sources. Some of the providers of that information are biased. They have their own agenda, and they have no problem providing incomplete, slanted, or even completely false information. So how do we tell what’s true and what’s false?

The answer is education. A good education should provide a solid foundation of facts as well as teach people how to determine which sources of information are trustworthy and which sources have their own agenda.

In last week’s column, I wrote about the need to make city dwellers aware of the facts about our food infrastructure since they are especially vulnerable to any disruption in that infrastructure. But how do we do that?

From my recent visit to New York, I was reminded that people living in cities are bombarded with information all the time. The amount of sights and sounds New Yorkers have to process just while walking to and from work is staggering. Just navigating the sidewalk can be a challenge. And they have people on the sidewalk pushing every kind of agenda imaginable. I can tell you from personal experience you don’t have to walk too far before you encounter someone telling you about the evils of genetically-modified ingredients in food.

So how do we help city folk, who are very busy people, cut through the noise? We educate them. Yes, I know you’ve heard this solution before, and ag companies and non-profits have launched all kinds of pro-ag marketing campaigns.

That’s not the solution I’m talking about. Those marketing campaigns are targeted for adults. I’m saying we shouldn’t focus on the adults. By the time you’re an adult, you’ve already made up your mind about a lot of things, and in my experience, it’s a rare person who takes the time to evaluate the facts and then change his/her mind. Instead, we need to focus our efforts on making sure agriculture is a required subject in every middle school and high school, especially in states with large urban populations.

Biology, chemistry, and physics — they are all sciences, and they are required courses to earn a high school diploma. They are useful classes. I use what I learned in my high school and college science courses to cut through a lot of baloney and occasionally to make important decisions. Yet where, in this list of sciences, is agriculture? It’s a science, after all.

Oh, I hear the detractors already. They’ll say, “But such a small percentage the population will ever be farmers that it’s a waste of money and time to make everyone take agriculture classes.” How many people are physicists or chemists or biologists? Yet those courses are still required. They’re required because so many other careers and pursuits depend on knowledge of those sciences.

A lot depends on the science of agriculture, as well. After all, everyone eats, so everyone should have an interest in knowing how their food is grown. And the ag service industry is one of the fastest growing career fields, so it would be helpful to give students the basics they need to pursue a career in ag services. And even if students don’t want to have anything to do with the ag industry, they will still be asked to vote based on issues like GMO labelling or Farm Bills or trade agreements or renewable energy subsidies.

When people walk into the voting booth and make decisions on those issues, I want them to know the facts. It’s time to make agriculture classes required for every single student.