September 26, 2013 (national teach ag day ) was the fourth annual National Teach Ag Day in the US, and TerViva visited
Hardee Senior High School in Wauchula, Florida to share in the celebration and plant pongamia with students and teachers. Our visit with the students and teachers provide us an opportunity to reflect on the nature of agricultural education, why agricultural literacy is an important national goal, and what contributions a small innovative agriculture company like TerViva can make toward achieving our national agricultural literacy goals.
Agriculture is broadly defined as the cultivation of animals, plants, fungi, and other life forms for food, fiber, biofuel, drugs, and other products (for example bio-based chemicals) used to sustain, and enhance human life. (wikipedia). The cultivation of these life forms for human benefit is based upon scientific principles and requires the significant manipulation of the natural world. In addition to science and technology, agriculture has a financial dimension. Furthermore, because agriculture is a major economic activity with environmental and social impact, agriculture operates within the confines of public policy.
Agriculture and education were related and intertwined disciplines for much of the history of the US because two hundred years ago nineteen of every twenty Americans lived in rural farm-based communities. However, by 1920 this number had dropped to one in two and by the 2000’s that number had fallen further to one in five. (urbanization of the US). Parallel to urbanization, the evolution if technology has continued to drive the sophistication and complexity of agriculture on many fronts including: the selection and breeding of crop varieties for higher yields, the further improvement of crop varieties through genetic engineering and whole genome association technologies, the increasing sophistication of farming mechanization, application of pest management and soil nutrient chemicals, and more recently the advent of large historical data sets of environmental factors within small zones of fields and algorithms to correlate this environmental data with inputs and yields to aid farmers in maximizing yields and profits.
In the US today, fewer that 2% or our more than 300 M population are actively engaged in farming. These farmers not only feeds the US population, (feeding on average 140-150 people per farmer) they also produce in aggregate $179B of outputs or ~1% of our GDP. This US agricultural production/capita (at $49.5 B USD) is second only to that of Australia ((at $66 B USD).
For ~70% of Americans, high school, is the end of formal education, while 100% will need to eat; clothe, house and transport themselves; and consume a vast array of items produced from chemicals coming from agricultural sources. In addition to their personal consumption, Americans will be impacted by the tension between the need for agricultural labor and immigration policies. Citizens with greater agricultural literacy will be better able to influence the political process in ways that result in positive impacts on the agricultural system that produces the wealth of products that sustain American life. Therefore, high schools need to provide their students sufficient agricultural education so that students leave high school with a basic level of agricultural literacy.
Want to improve your own agricultural literacy? Check out the learning resources online at http://www.agclassroom.org/.
For our part, at TerViva we look forward to supporting the students and teachers of Hardee Senior High School, in particular supporting student science projects to address questions about pongamia biology and cultivation.