Preparing for the Future of Agriculture through Career Exploration
Editor’s note: The following blog is part of a series intended to share experiences of U.S. agricultural educators with a global audience. For more information about the Ag Educators Corner blog series on Agrilinks, please visit: https://agrilinks.org/blog/agricultural-educators-agricultural-educators
“I don’t know what I want to do when I graduate.” Have you ever heard a teenager say that? As a teacher in a high school, I hear that a lot. Students, on the verge of leaving high school and entering “the real world” often have no idea what their next step will be. “Will I enter the workforce? Should I go to college? What am I going to do with my life?” As teachers, I believe it is our duty (along with many other duties!) to help students answer these questions. And although we, as educators, can’t choose their careers for them, I believe that providing students with opportunities to explore their options will lead them toward careers that will not only fulfill them, but will also make a great impact in a world that desperately needs their talents.
According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, close to 40% of the world’s workforce is employed in the agricultural industry. Careers in the agricultural industry range from the most basic of all agricultural practices, such as production and farming, to the most scientific processes in the world, biotechnology. In order to feed a growing world population, it is imperative that young people enter these career fields, and in order for young people to enter these career fields, they must be exposed to modern agriculture and be given an opportunity to explore the wide array of careers available in food, fiber and natural resources. Furthermore, exploration of careers in the agricultural industry will expose students to career options in which they can find their passion and working in a career that one is passionate about will translate into a productive, fulfilling livelihood that makes a difference in the world.
Because of this, the exploration of agriculture is something that the Sullivan FFA Chapter, in Sullivan, Indiana, USA, takes very seriously. Students can explore careers in agriculture through summer and after-school employment, field trips during the school day, online agricultural career exploration tools, and many other avenues, but the specific practice I am sharing in this space is our three-day agriculture industry immersion tours.
Every summer, students from the Sullivan FFA Chapter embark on a three-day journey across interstate highways, down dirt paths, deep into caves, onto farms, and into factories exploring the world of agriculture. Through this experience, students have the chance to explore the wide spectrum of career pathways in the agricultural industry and begin to plot the course toward their future occupations.
Exploring animal sciences, students discovered the largest breeder of Angus bulls in Kentucky at the family-owned Stone Gate Farms, while traveling through the remote hills of this Midwestern-US state. Students also explored one of the largest dairy farms in the United States, Fair Oaks, on the northern plains of Indiana and discovered the world of specialty animal production while touring American Bison ranches in the U.S. states of Missouri and Indiana.
For those students interested in the processing of crops into food products, we visit a remote distillery in a central Kentucky valley, Maker’s Mark, and the Anheuser-Busch brewery in the heart of downtown St. Louis, Missouri. These explorations provide students with an opportunity to inquire into the processing, tradition, and science behind the art of turning grains into alcoholic beverages. And a small factory in an even smaller town in northeastern Indiana gave students the chance to witness the transformation of cucumbers into sweet, preserved pickles.
These experiences along with explorations of horse farms, caves, fish hatcheries, nature parks, combine-harvester factories, and biotechnology companies provided students with the opportunity to investigate the wide variety of careers in the agricultural industry while traveling hundreds of miles away from home. Although these cross-country, multi-day experiences are fun and very impactful, agricultural career exploration can easily and effectively occur in the home communities of agricultural education programs with the need for few resources. Organizing a visit to a local farm one day after school, supervising a student internship at a local agribusiness over the summer, or taking students on a quick field trip during a class period to a local ag-retailer to explore seeds, feeds, and the latest agriculture equipment are all simple ways to successfully introduce students to the many facets of the agricultural industry without utilizing a vast amount of resources.
It should also be noted that student expectations and evaluations are important during these exploration activities. During one-day field trips, I often ask students curriculum-based questions throughout tours and presentations in order to link coursework with exploratory activities. During our summer agriculture industry immersion tours, students are prompted to ask questions throughout the various experiences. Each evening, the experiences of the day are recapped, and we discuss career and job opportunities in each career pathway explored, which furthers our commitment to getting students excited about careers in the agriculture industry.
Our purpose in agricultural education is to grow leaders, build communities, and strengthen agriculture. A growing world population needs innovative young people to take the lead and generate new ways to feed the world. Exposing students to these career opportunities is vital to our purpose. Let’s get to work!
Ag Career Exploration Resources:
Educators interested in exploring agricultural careers while in the classroom can have their students visit https://www.agexplorer.com/ . A joint venture between the National FFA Organization and Discovery Education, I believe this is the best resource for agriculture career exploration.
Educators interested in organizing larger-scale career explorations trips (like the traveling experiences discussed above), can contact Kevin Cross ([email protected], 812-268-6301, @KevinDaleCross on Twitter) and/or visit the following links to view sample trip itineraries.
Kevin Cross is an agricultural educator at Sullivan High School in Sullivan, IN.
This blogging series on Agricultural Education is curated by the PSU Global Teach Ag! Initiative and the Innovation for Agricultural Training and Education (InnovATE) project. To learn more, visit: http://aese.psu.edu/teachag/global. Questions or ideas to collaborate? Email [email protected]