Why Ag Literacy?

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There are two things we hear a lot in 4-H:  1. 4-H is cows and cooking, and 2. when asking a child where eggs come from (or steak, milk, pork chops, etc.) they reply, “Grocery pick up.”  I can understand if there was a little chuckle when you read that. I chuckled the first few times I heard it, especially the second one. Children can be very literal. When I follow up and ask what animal eggs come from, I often get a blank stare. Suddenly it’s not so cute.

Those of you who have read my articles over the years know 4-H is about a whole lot more than cows and cooking. However, cows and cooking is a great place to start because it is a natural promoter of Ag Literacy. What is Ag Literacy? It’s more than knowing where your food comes from. It’s about understanding the agricultural industry, who grows your food, how it gets to market, and how agriculture impacts our economy, environment, and our everyday lives. Learning to cook is a life skill. We teach cooking to our youth along with nutrition, making healthy choices, how local foods and foods you might grow are better for you and taste better than highly processed items, and how they are ultimately less expensive than what you buy in the store. When raising animals, they learn about the responsibility of caring for an animal, the space an animal needs to be happy and healthy, and cost of grain or grass to feed that animal. Then, when the animal is producing eggs or is slaughtered, how to determine a fair price if you were to sell the meat or eggs. If you calculate that on the cost of feed alone, you will be charging 40 dollars for a dozen eggs. Think about the cost of food right now and our economy. Can you see a correlation between the rising cost of food and the economic situation we are in? You can thank Ag Literacy for that.

Recently I had the opportunity to do mock job interviews with soldiers who are getting ready to transition out of the army. In speaking with one of the soldiers, he told me how the program he was in gave him a new appreciation for farmers. Before being part of the program, he knew people grew his food and that eggs came from chickens, and he enjoyed all that dairy cattle, beef cattle, and other animals offered his diet. However, that’s as far as his knowledge went. He never knew about the regulations farmers dealt with, how they used science to increase crop yields while hopefully decreasing costs, or that a dry summer could mean the difference between keeping or having to sell the farm. They are the best environmental stewards because the land is how they earn their living. He said in his opinion, farmers get a bad wrap; that these folks get very little for a hard day’s work, with lots of hassles, increasing learning curves, and the list goes on. Also remember, without our farmers we would be hungry and naked. Just something to think about as we teach our children where our food comes from.

So, as you think about food and all the people attached to it, remember two things for me please. 1. 4-H is about way more than cows and cooking. We embrace these roots into everything we do as we are working with our future citizen leaders. 2. We need to teach our children not only where our food comes from, but who is growing it. After all, you take them with you to pick up the groceries. Maybe a field to trip the local farm to meet a farmer wouldn’t hurt either? Ag Literacy – just a little food for thought.

For more information, please contact Shea Ann DeJarnette, 4-H Youth Development with North Carolina Cooperative Extension, Robeson County Center, at 671-3276, by E-mail at Shea_Ann_DeJarnette@ncsu.edu.