As a livestock specialist and a mother, Heather Smith is interested in how children perceive agriculture.
Most people are generations removed from the farm, says Smith, livestock specialist with University of Missouri Extension in Callaway County. That’s why she has been presenting the program “Ag in My World” to elementary school students.
“They don’t understand the scope of agriculture and everything it entails,” Smith said. “I think it is important for us to educate our youth about agriculture and the jobs and the products we get from agriculture so they have a better understanding of where their food comes from.”
A pilot program began during the summer, when Smith reached more than 400 summer school students through Columbia Public Schools’ Adventure Club after-school program. Smith says it was very well received and has continued into the regular school year.
In addition to the Adventure Club programs, she has visited Fatima Elementary School in Westphalia and a home school association in Columbia. “I’m also talking to a school in Jefferson City and the home school association of Callaway County, so it is growing,” Smith said.
During summer school, Smith did programs for kindergarten through fifth grade. She says it is really hard to do a program to reach all those grade levels, so during the regular school year she has cut it down to kindergarten through second grade for fall semester and then will present to third- to fifth-graders next semester.
“It’s been very positive,” Smith said. “They enjoy the games we play at MyAmericanFarm.org and the craft or activities that we do. I try to talk about the topics but also do interactive things to keep the kids engaged and interested.”
Smith’s goal is to do at least one school in each county she covers. There have also been discussions of expanding the program and getting college students involved to go out and teach the programs.
“I think it is really important for us as agriculturalists to get the message out to our kids,” Smith said. “The reason I chose kindergarten through fifth grade at first is that these are the kids who are going to go home and say, ‘Hey, Mom, guess what we talked about in school today?’ and talk about those things.”
Smith would like to expand the program to middle school and even high school programs and talk about the different job opportunities in agriculture.
“We don’t graduate enough agriculturalists to fill all the positions that are available in the agriculture industry,” Smith said. “What we need to do is get that information out to those kids and let them know that there are opportunities out there.”