University of Maryland Extension

Rationale

Agriculture literacy is crucial to the success of communities.

Maryland is a rapidly urbanizing state; in fact, it is the sixth most densely populated state in the U.S. Its growing population currently exceeds 5 million people, most of whom are living in urban and suburban areas and are several generations removed from agriculture and farm life. Even so, agriculture remains one of the top industries in the state of Maryland.  It is a major force driving the state’s economy and affects each and every one of us as consumers of agricultural products. Therefore, it is imperative to educate youth about agriculture and its importance. Educated youth become educated voters and consumers, contributing to stronger communities.  People vote in support of issues that are important to them; preserving agriculture in a rapidly developing state is possible only if the state’s residents value Maryland agriculture.

Recently, the USDA, in partnership with the Agriculture in the Classroom Consortium, signed a memorandum of understanding. This memorandum encourages public school educators to integrate information about food and agriculture systems so as to assist students in understanding the pivotal role of agriculture in the U.S. and world economies.  With the support of the United States government, it is clear that agriculture literacy should be one of the many priorities addressed in formal youth education.

The ideal agriculture literacy program provides youth with a better understanding of production agriculture, the relationship between agriculture and the environment, and how agriculture affects their everyday lives in relation to nutrition and health. University of Maryland Extension, with its talented faculty and extensive resources dedicated to both agriculture and youth development, is the ideal organization to develop such a program. As a result, University of Maryland Extension has created the AGsploration: The Science of Maryland Agriculture program to fill the acknowledged and critical need for agriculture education.

 

Learning about agriculture provides an avenue to develop science proficiency.

The 2009 National Science Academy Rising above the Gathering Storm report identified a marked decline in science literacy and a drop in the number of young people across the country who pursue careers in math and science.  Consequently, the national 4-H program has instituted a mandate to improve Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) educational opportunities for youth to address this growing need.  The Maryland State Department of Education, in establishing an exclusive branch dealing with STEM initiatives, recognizes and is working to address the critical need to develop and support STEM learning opportunities. 

The teaching of agriculture cannot be separated from the teaching of science, technology, engineering, and math. Thus, in addition to increasing agriculture literacy, the AGsploration program serves to bolster youth STEM skills. Several research studies have shown that teaching youth agriculture through STEM-related curriculum also increases their interest in and success at completing post-secondary agriculture science degrees and gaining careers within science fields.   

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