Ag Education in Support of the Future of Agriculture in Adams County
Posted: August 23, 2011
There is a growing need for young farmers and farm employees to learn about cutting edge agricultural technologies and business management practices. Penn State Extension offers hands-on experience in agriculture through its numerous 4-H programs.
All organizations and schools represented at the Ag Innovations Education planning meeting already provide some form of experiential or contextual learning in agriculture. In Adams County, Penn State Extension offers hands-on experience in agriculture through its numerous 4-H programs. “Theoretically, the earlier students start learning about agriculture, the more they will want to stick with it down the road,” said Shawn Abma, Agriculture Instructor at Gettysburg High School. 4-H is an organization that shares this view, supporting young people from elementary school through high school with various educational and leadership activities in the areas of science, citizenship, and healthy living.
Alongside 4-H programs, Adams County high schools offer agricultural learning opportunities in the classroom and through Future Farmers of America, or FFA. “We have a three-pronged approach to agricultural education in our school system,” said Shawn Abma. “There are classes you can take to get a better understanding of what goes into agriculture, there is the Future Farmers of America (FFA) club, which provides many leadership opportunities and learning experiences, and there is the SAE, or Supervised Agriculture Experience, which gives students the chance to have job experience in an agriculture field, like an apprenticeship.”
“Our introductory course forms the bottom of our agricultural education pyramid and it basically scratches the surface of all facets of agriculture in order to pique the interest of our students and help guide them to a more focused approach,” said Mr. Abma. “What is unique about Adams County is that every school district in the area teaches agriculture. We have solid agriculture programs in Adams County school districts, but what we want is to take it a step further and get more students to continue their education, after they are finished with high school, at a community college, Land Grant College, or somewhere they can continue learning about agriculture,” said James Cramer, Director of Career and Technical Education at Gettysburg High School. “The catch is, how do we get students to do it? One possibility is to create more connections among the various agriculture organizations to help students follow a formal career path.”
In recent years, the Adams County campus of Harrisburg Area Community College has been introducing new agricultural certificate and career curricula. “In the last couple of years HACC has successfully introduced viticulture (grape growing) and enology (wine making) associate degree programs. Agritourism has just recently come onto our radar since our Community Thought Forum, and perhaps that will be another avenue to take for HACC’s formal education in agriculture in the future,” said Shannon Harvey, Academic Dean of HACC in Gettysburg. HACC also offers an associate’s degree program in agribusiness and management, which serves as a great continuation program for high school ag students. Students in this program gain a solid foundational understanding of all facets of agribusiness: all of the institutions, firms, and activities involved in the commercial production of food, retail marketing, food service, and the full range of supporting industries. “Although not heavily scientific, this program gives students insight into how to run a successful farming business. It supplements their existing agricultural knowledge with the business side of farming, such as economics, finance, management, and the list goes on,” said Ms. Harvey.
The Gettysburg Adams Chamber of Commerce has joined the discourse on how to create connections between agricultural education and Ag jobs in the work force. “We aim to provide business opportunities as well as connections between different businesses and organizations,” said Edith Waldren. “One way we create these connections is through our Business Education Partnership program, or BEP. The BEP provides students with an integrated work, training, and study program, helping them attain the proficiency in skills they need to succeed in a given discipline. We also hold an annual career fair that can feature agricultural leaders and in this way draw more interest to farming careers.”
The Young Grower Alliance, a partnership between Penn State Extension and specialty crop producers, provides a support network for those already committed to farming as an occupation. “It is made up of post-college age kids who come back to the family fruit farm, after college or trying a different career off the farm,” said Katie Ellis. “We offer young fruit growers leadership opportunities, as well as numerous educational opportunities, like field trips to universities, grower orchards, and research facilities, in addition to workshops, and lectures providing exposure to new farming practices and technologies. Members also volunteer at college fairs and assist with other programs to recruit students to the horticultural industry. The YGA has proven to be a great support system for young producers. It can also be used to encourage other young people to join the agriculture industry, since there is already a support system for them in place.”
While these different organizations already provide a multiplicity of options in formal ag education for students, the impact would be even greater if they were integrated. The planning meeting made this abundantly clear, and highlighted the importance of inter-organizational cooperation in order to attain the goal of continuous formal agricultural education. “The meeting made it clear that we need to identify what the needs are for the ag industry and how we can fulfill those needs through educational outlets,” said Shannon Harvey, “we need to figure out what each organization or non-profit is doing, what they need to accomplish, and how we can connect them, and at the same time get the kids on board.”
To get involved in this new Ag Innovations Education initiative, please contact Judy Chambers, Penn State Extension Economic and Community Development Educator, 717-334-6271, ext 313 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Amelia Jarvinen is an Ag Innovations Program Assistant at Penn State Extension serving Adams County. Penn State is committed to Affirmative Action, equal opportunity, and the diversity of its workplace. Penn State Extension in Adams County is located at 670 Old Harrisburg Road, Suite 204, Gettysburg, PA 17325, phone 717-334-6271 or 1-888-427-0261, e-mail AdamsExt@psu.edu .