North Carolina farmers work to raise a new literate generation
For North Carolina farmers Erica and Justin Edwards, educating people about farming and everything it provides – from food and fiber to career opportunities – begins with preschoolers and continues through in the young adult years.
Erica, chair of the Duplin County Farm Office Women’s Committee, teaches third grade. Passionate about cultivating future literate consumers in agriculture, Erica integrates agriculture into all the lessons she can.
“The integration of agriculture into the school curriculum is invaluable. Every aspect of our life, no matter what our career, is linked to farming, ”she explained. “Children are amazed to learn how much doctors appreciate agriculture because gauze is made from cotton.”
Erica not only encourages the teachers she works with to incorporate agriculture into their lessons, but in the previous district where she worked, she was instrumental in calling for a nationwide STEAMA initiative. county, which requires teachers across the county to integrate science, technology, arts, math, and agriculture into at least one of their daily lessons.
“For example, if they did a math word problem, they could include something about farming and maybe incorporate a unique farming fact into the problem,” Erica said.
To make her lessons easier to understand and more practical for the students, Erica has a raised garden in her classroom every year. “Whether it’s addition, subtraction, multiplication, whatever we do in math, we relate to the raised garden.”
Erica tries to make her fellow educators understand how important it is for students to be able to relate to what they are learning; This helps ensure that the lesson will stay with them for a long time, Erica stressed.
A full-time farmer and chairman of the Duplin County Farm Bureau, Justin raises pigs and turkeys, and grows corn, wheat, soybeans, cotton and sorghum. Before COVID-19, Justin brought the farm to Erica’s classroom as often as he could, with timely lessons on how crops are planted, tended, harvested and transported. He even brought materials to the school so that the students could better understand all that farming involves.
When schools switched to virtual platforms in the spring, Justin switched to videos, which allowed him to put even more of the farm in front of the kids. When the kids saw how clean and spacious the chicken coops were and how clean the pigs were, they were amazed. Many of the myths about animal containment and cleanliness on farms were shattered before their eyes.
In addition to introducing the young tom turkeys to the students and showing them what it is for pigs at lunchtime, Justin also involved the children via a video in the corn harvest – to show them the harvester – thresher at work taking them with the grain truck to the grain elevator, he gave them a multidimensional perspective of farming that is second after actually being on the farm.
Because the children were at home to watch the videos, parents and siblings also got a taste of life on the farm. Likewise, when children are in class, they bring home what they are learning about farming. Whether they are sharing a fun fact or correcting a misconception about farming, they tell their families about what they see and hear in class, which sets them on the right path to becoming literate adults in agriculture, a goal of Erica and Justin.
In their roles as Farm Bureau leaders, Erica and Justin encourage other farmers to share their stories with students of all ages. The many people who found it gained as much from the experience as the students.
Much like he does with Erica’s students, Justin shares the story of the farm with the kids in kindergarten along with the couple’s kids, Sadie, 5, and Oliver, 2.
He is also involved in many FFA chapters. While working with high school students, Justin was struck by many who didn’t grow up in farming, but are very interested in a career in farming or related to farming. Erica links this to the students’ exposure to local farmers, who show them agriculture is deep and extensive.
“If I get a degree in agribusiness, I can work for agricultural credit. Or if I major in poultry science, I can go and work for Butterball, ”Erica said.
Justin sometimes even hired high school kids who wanted to see what life on the farm is like.
“Educating today’s youth with farming experiences is vitally important. They need to see that agriculture goes through a complete cycle; it’s more than cows, plows and sows, ”said Justin.
Ultimately, Justin and Erica would like to bring students to their farm throughout the year so they can see what life really looks like on a working farm, which, based on the questions Erica asked over the years. years, is clearly very different from media representations or even the experience of students in agri-tourism farms.
Justin and Erica won first place in the National Young Farmers and Ranchers Achievement Award at the American Farm Bureau’s annual convention in 2019. As recipients of the Achievement Award, the Edwards received a new Ford truck, courtesy of from Ford. Ford generously sponsors the 2021 YF&R National Competitions, supplying new Ford trucks to the winners of the Achievement Award, Discussion Meet and Excellence in Agriculture competitions.