Almost everything we eat, wear, or use comes from a plant or animal on a farm, but we are losing the knowledge of how to grow food, work on farms, and cook with whole ingredients. Americans’ physical separation from farms, declining direct involvement in farming, and dependence on consolidated national and global food supply chains sets up the next generation of Vermonters to lack knowledge and experience for self-reliance in this changing world, especially given climate change and global health pandemics. For Vermonters to be knowledgeable local food consumers and agricultural advocates, they need food and farm experiences throughout their lives. Starting with the earliest learners, the populace needs to be connected to the land and Vermont farmers, taught basic knowledge and skills in food and farming, shown the connection to other issues including climate and water, and develop work ethics and transferable skills.
There is a growing national movement to increase agricultural knowledge via the K-12 educational system. Many Vermont students receive some form of agricultural education, but it is variable across the state. Vermont is a recognized leader in K-12 Farm to School (FTS) programs and offers traditional agricultural career path options for older students. However, Vermont lacks a coordinated approach to embedding agriculture education into all students’ learning. Individual teachers must be confident, creative, motivated, and knowledgeable in place-based agricultural education integration to offer their students these opportunities.
Professional development opportunities are available to educators (pre-K-12) on food and agricultural curriculum integration through Vermont’s Farm to School grant program, the Farm to School Institute, and the organizations that make up the Vermont Farm to School Network. Career and Technical Education (CTE) and Future Farmers of America (FFA) remain the lead options for high school students to pursue agricultural career training, although an increasing number of middle and high schools are incorporating greenhouses, food system studies, and school gardens. School cafeterias are also important classrooms for improving agricultural literacy (see School Food Procurement brief).
Nonprofits and farm businesses throughout the state offer family programs, on-farm school field trips, after-school experiences, and summer camps. County fairs, 4-H, festivals, and farm-to-community programs provide out-of-school agricultural experiences. Vermont Ag Literacy Week and Open Farm Week encourage families to learn and explore more about Vermont agriculture. 4-H has had an increase in youth seeking animal experiences and UVM’s animal science program is at capacity. With existing and historical networks in Vermont, increased national resources, and the growing interest in agricultural experiences, there is a pressing need to support and grow these programs.