by Enrico Villamaino
Statistically speaking, the American farmer is getting old. According to the Census of Agriculture, released by the USDA, the age of the average American farmer is nearly 59 years old. This average has slowly been creeping upward for the past 20 years. If left unchecked, this trend could have serious consequences for farming in the future.
In order to address and combat what could very well be a farmer shortage in the years to come, numerous organizations at the 100th annual American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) Convention are determined to educate, interest and engage young people across the U.S. in the history of husbandry, the science of agriculture and the opportunities for those who wish to pursue farming as a career.
4-H, the USDA’s own youth organization, operating under the auspices of the USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture, strives to instill a strong sense of citizenship, healthy living, science, engineering and conquering problems through technology. Many of these initiatives are presented with an eye toward agricultural applications.
“Our motto is ‘To make the best better’ and our slogan is ‘Learn by doing,’” explained Gabrielle Fontenot of Louisiana 4-H, who was on hand for the convention in New Orleans. “We’re here at the convention to showcase that these are things worth learning and can definitely help young people in their futures.”
Headquartered at the U.S. Department of Education’s Offices of Vocational and Adult Education, the National FFA is a “career and technical student organization…based on middle and high school classes that promote and support agricultural education.”
The efforts to involve and interest students in farming is not restricted to just teenagers. The Genesee County Farm Bureau (GCFB), located in western New York State, was at the AFBF convention exhibiting its “Kinderfarmin’” program. Kinderfarmin’ is a premier event of the local farm bureau. Taking place annually, the event “engages all kindergarteners throughout the county,” according to GCFB Pro Education Chair Natasha Sutherland. “Local dairy farms take turns hosting the event where students, teachers and parents alike explore the world of our county’s largest agricultural industry.”
GCFB Young Farmers and Ranchers Co-Chair Emmaline Long added that the event includes “hands-on learning stations, interactive demonstrations and guided farm tours.” These activities are meant to teach children the importance of farming in their daily lives and – hopefully – spark an interest in farming as a profession when they grow up.