Seventh-graders pack 4-H park for Agriculture Awareness Day

Managing Editor

CENTREVILLE, Md. (May 2, 2017) — In two days last week, more than 600 Queen Anne’s County seventh-graders got extended exposure to the modern agriculture and the myriad of careers available in the industry.
It was Agriculture Awareness Day, a first for the county, pulling together dozens of volunteers across the farming spectrum to teach the youth but also get them thinking about their future jobs and what role agriculture could play in it.
“Just give them the idea of agriculture and what’s going on so when they pick there schedule for high school they’ll think about agriculture,” said Jenell Eck, event coordinator. “Agriculture is just not the farmers. They’re all sorts of jobs.”
Students rotated among five stations set up at the Queen Anne’s County 4-H Park, spending close to an hour at each stop, learning about the technology used in farming, animal agriculture, plant science and production methods, aquaculture and the importance of pollination.
Each station had hands-on activities for the students and time for questions with experts in that specific field.
“The kids seem to be enjoying themselves at the stations,” Eck said during the lunch break on the first day, April 24. “I’ve been told they’ve been asking great questions.”
Planning for the two-day event began about six months ago, Eck said, with meetings of a 16-member committee.
But she added the germ of the event was borne out of the county’s Farm Bureau Young Farmer committee reforming in 2015 and making agriculture education a top priority. Initial efforts to visit schools with farming displays in lessons morphed into the larger Ag Awareness day bringing the students to agriculture.
“I love to be able to get them somewhere they haven’t been before,” said Michael Page, supervisor for curriculum instruction for Queen Anne’s County Public Schools and member of the event’s board. “That type of thing is really important for kids to see. You can’t bring this all to a school.”
Some 15 FFA members, including state officers, were part of the event’s volunteer force, helping at stations and answering questions.
Page said having the older students involved has it’s own impact.
“They can see what it means to educate and be a positive figure on our younger students,” he said.
Eck said from her time as a state FFA officer and Miss Maryland Agriculture, she visited a many county agriculture education events.
Most that she went to were geared toward elementary school aged children, which can build on the youth’s agriculture awareness but may not have as much an impact on them connecting agriculture to their future career.
“They enjoyed it,” she said of small children at past events, “but they couldn’t soak up the information we’re putting down here today.”
The committee worked with the county’s middle school principals and science teachers to taylor the program to what would be useful to the teachers and coincide with school district’s science standards.
Eck said the schools were enthusiastic about getting their students the exposure to the science used in agriculture, especially those in the county’s more populated areas. 
With an anticipated shortage of qualified employees for highly-skilled jobs in the agriculture industry, organizers wanted to send the message to students that there is a lot of career opportunity related to food, agriculture, renewable natural resources and the environment.
According to a 2015 Purdue University report, 46 percent of the estimated 57,900 new job opportunities in agriculture each year will be in management and business.
Twenty-seven percent will be in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, the so-called STEM areas.
Jobs in food and biomaterials production will comprise 15 percent, and 12 percent of the openings will be in education, communication and governmental services.
“Middle school is really where you determine what you want to do for a career,” Page said. “If we can get kids interested in that at an early age, they can start preparing themselves for their career at an earlier age.”
Intent on holding the event at no cost to schools, the volunteers secured about $17,000 in donations and sponsorships to pay for buses, lunches, t-shirts for the students and take-home informational material.
Each school was also given a large poster detailing different agriculture careers to hang in the school hallways.
Students were surveyed both before and after their visit to the 4-H park to get an idea of what they took away from the event.
“We want to see what the kids learned,” said Jenny Rhodes, county Extension agriculture educator and event board member. “We would also like to develop a model for other counties.”
Eck said there will also be continued messaging from the event through social media and an essay contest for the students as part of the ongoing effort.