Agriculture is Ohio’s leading industry, but agriculture teachers have been slipping out of classrooms.
According to Ohio Sen. Chris Widener of Springfield, the state has 5 percent fewer ag teachers than it had in 2005.
But that doesn’t mean there is less agriculture education happening in the state.
RURAL SCHOOLS STRUGGLE TO KEEP AG-ED IN CLASSROOMS
At Logan High School in Southeast Ohio, students huddle around microscopes to examine the cells of leaves found in their teacher’s back yard. Many of these kids come from a farming background, like tenth grader Jordan Dicken, who grew up working on the family farm.
“We grow stuff and sell it,” she says, referring to products like vegetables, potatoes and eggs. Dicken says that’s why she decided to take this Natural Resources class, and why she’s going to be a farmer one day.
But her teacher, Jeremy Grove, does not come from a farming background, though he also grew up in Logan. He says it’s nice to be back home, and it’s especially nice to have a job. The high school – like many others — had cut back on its agriculture program for a few years because of budget cuts and a hiring freeze.
But, he says one day he’d like to teach in an urban setting.
“When you ask a little 8-, 9-year-old boy and say, ‘OK, where does white milk come from?’ ‘A cow.’ ‘Where does chocolate milk come from?’ ‘A brown cow.’ And it’s cute, but it’s sad at the same time just for the fact that most of these people, most of these kids are growing up. They’re so secluded from the farm now they don’t know where their food is coming from,” Grove says.
BRANCHING OUT TO URBAN SCHOOLS
Branching out to urban areas is something Carol Warkentien with the Ohio Soybean Council has been seeing quite a lot of. She points to Columbus City Schools, which just launched an agriculture program.
Only, Warkentien says calling it an agriculture program may not be such a good thing.
“That term tends to bring up a red-barn-and-overalls picture to people, which has really changed,” she says.
Part of the problem with spreading agriculture education has been branding.
“We have seen for some time now that if it’s a vet science class that the veterinary careers intrigue lots of kids to sign up, as opposed to just being called agriculture with a focus on animal science,” Warkentien explains.
Many schools did cut back on agriculture classes because of cuts in funding. In fact, several Ohio lawmakers – including Sen Widener – are so worried about the situation they’re working to open an ag-themed STEM high school in Springfield.
But, Jeanne Gogolski, also with the Soybean Council, isn’t stressing about it. She says agriculture themes have been making their way into regular science classes.
“We do know around Ohio that there are plenty of programs that are maybe not labeled agriculture or don’t appear to be agriculture but are teaching ag concepts,” she says. “And they may not be ag production, but they might be focused on the bio economy…bio fuels or bio products.”
HIGHER ED GETS A BOOST IN AG STUDENTS
That trend of urban students learning about traditionally rural topics has spread to the world of higher education. Linda Martin, associate dean of Ohio State University’s Ag and Environmental Sciences School says about half of her students come from urban backgrounds, and her program has grown about 15 percent since 2005.
“I really think that with a greater public awareness of issues that surround agriculture and food and natural resources combined with the economy people see an opportunity for jobs but they also see opportunities to make a difference,” Martin says.
And they are finding jobs: mostly high tech jobs in fancy offices nowhere near a farm.
Martin says 92 percent of her graduates have a job within six months of graduation.
STUDENTS LOOK TO AGRICULTURE FOR JOBS
During an animal handling class out at Ohio State’s sheep facility, students have to wrestle sheep to the ground, examine them, and eventually draw their blood.
Carissa Thrush, a sophomore animal sciences major, says the class is hard and the sheep are surprisingly strong. But, she hopes it’ll pay off.
“I met with an advisor and she was like, ‘You should probably switch from psychology because there’s not that many job openings and you don’t really like it that much.’ So I did,” she says. “That’s my main concern…if I’m going to get a job and if I’m doing this for nothing because I already have $13,000 in loans, so it’s a lot.”
Thrush also plans to graduate with a minor in journalism. She would really like to be an editor at a fashion magazine, but she says she has a better shot at getting a job as a vet than working at a glossy mag.
Ida Lieszkovszky / StateImpact Ohio permalink
Students draw a diagram of tree cells during a Natural Resources class at Logan High School.