The Food Journal and Food, Nutrition & Science

An alliance between The Lempert Report and The Center for Food Integrity

Going Mobile to Teach Children About Agriculture

Going Mobile to Teach Children About Agriculture

In the News

February 27, 2011

Nearly nine years ago, the members of the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau (an independent grassroots organization) started asking elementary and middle school students, “Where does your food come from?” They were alarmed when the majority answered grocery stores and fast food restaurants. While they anticipated such responses from some of the urban regions of the state, they did not expect the huge number of such responses from suburban and rural areas. It illustrated the need to enlighten today’s youth about the significance of agriculture in their daily lives.

Pennsylvania’s Mobile Ag Ed Science Lab program was born out of the desire to educate local youth about agriculture. Although agriculture is the number one industry in Pennsylvania, employing one of every seven Pennsylvanians, students just don’t make the connection between agriculture and the food on their table. In August 2003, the first Mobile Ag Ed Science Lab – inspired by and modeled after a Mobile Lab program in Maryland – started visiting schools in the four-county pilot region. By the end of that first school year, lab visits had occurred in 11 different counties, and work started to add a second lab to the program to meet the increasing interest among the schools.

Today, the weeklong program provides students with hands-on science experiments related to agricultural concepts at four different levels, depending on grade. Each lesson is aligned with Pennsylvania standards for Science & Technology and Environment & Ecology. Typically, five to six 50-minute classes are conducted each day, for a total of 25 to 30 classes during the week’s visit. Students, in teams or two or three at each of the 12 lab stations, follow the scientific method as they work to solve a problem through scientific investigation.

“Children today are definitely less connected to agriculture than in the past. It used to be that even if you didn’t live on the farm, you knew someone (an uncle, a grandparent, or a neighbor) who was actively involved in production agriculture. That’s no longer the case,” says Tonya Wible, Program Director for Pennsylvania’s Mobile Ag Ed Science Lab program. “Not knowing the significant role that agriculture plays in our daily lives not only weakens one’s attention to personal health, but also leads to a lack of awareness of public policies which are essential to the future productivity and well-being of agriculture in our country.”

In creating lessons for their curriculum, the program strives to cover all aspects of agriculture, including the main food commodities and related products (both food and non-food), the natural resources that are needed for farming, the nutritional aspects of various food products, and the renewability of agricultural production. When appropriate in a particular lesson, they relate how advancements in technology play a part in today’s agriculture. Wible says that a fuller understanding by youth of the nature and complexity of food production will enable them as future citizens to better participate in discussions about our food and food system.

Without doubt, the program is a success and has received very positive responses from students, teachers, school administrators and parents from across the state. Students see it as a field trip right on their school premises, says Wible, while teachers see it as a way to provide hands-on science experiments with science concepts, materials and expertise that may not be accessible to them on a daily basis. Through the experience, students learn the importance of agriculture and want to share that knowledge with others.

“We believe that children who experience the Mobile Ag Ed Science Lab will be more aware and informed of their options for a healthy diet and sustainable lifestyle,” says Wible.

The program has now expanded to include six Mobile Ag Labs, and other states have expressed an interest in creating similar programs. The Pennsylvania Farm Bureau assisted the West Virginia Farm Bureau in starting their Mobile Ag Lab a couple of years ago; they are currently working with other states to do the same in their communities.

“Agricultural education is vital to the survival of the agricultural industry, so if our program can serve as a model for others as an effective way to educate their citizens about the importance of agriculture, we are happy to assist,” says Wible. “The preservation and advancement of the industry is vital to the social, economic and environmental fiber of our existence.”