An Analysis of the Spatial Effects of Population Density on the Agricultural Knowledge of College Freshmen

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Abstract

The purpose of this study was to evaluate the agricultural knowledge of college freshmen based on the spatial density of population in which they were raised. Each college freshman who responded indicated his/her location of their home as urban, suburban, or rural. Respondents then completed a multiple choice exam to test their knowledge of agriculture in five thematic areas. Overall, suburban students earned the highest scores (M = 52.4%) followed by rural students (M = 50.1%) and urban students (M = 46.8%). A statistically significant difference (p = 0.007) existed between the suburban and urban students. Suburban students also scored the highest in each of the five thematic areas of the agricultural literacy examination. Statistically significant differences were found between the suburban and urban students in Theme 1 (Understanding Agriculture) (p = 0.002) and Theme 2 (History, Geography, and Culture) (p = 0.012).

Introduction

Since undergoing a structural change in the last century, American society has moved from an industrial based entity to a more technologically advanced organization. The agriculture discipline has been extensively affected by these changes. Many citizens are choosing off-farm employment in urban settings thus losing sight of the importance of agriculture due to lack of exposure to it on a daily basis (Reidel, 2007; Bellah and Dyer, 2007; Moore, 2000; Smith et al., 2009).

Roughly 81% of the current United States population is located in an urban setting (United Nations Population Division, 2008). The remaining 19% of the population is located in rural settings, including both farming and non-farming citizens. In Texas, the total population in 2008 was 24.3 million, with roughly 21.3 million (87.8%) of the population living in urban areas (USDA-ERS, 2009). With the majority of the population living in urban areas and being so far removed from the farming or agricultural industry, it is important to consider agricultural literacy programs to educate the general population. Many people question this importance. The food and fiber system, considered one of the largest sectors in the U.S. economy, produced output valued at roughly $1.6 trillion or 12% of the nation's output (USDAERS, 2009). Additionally, approximately one out of every six jobs is attributed to the food and fiber system (Penson, et al., 2010).

Today, estimates of the number of people involved in farming and ranching range from 1% to 2% of our population (Terry, 2004). Put in perspective, this population provides food and fiber for the remaining 98% to 99% of Americans. Terry (2004) continues to explain that, in fact, all Americans interact with agriculture on a daily basis. The general population does not appear to realize that the food supplied on their dinner tables and the clothing on their backs all rely heavily on the state of the agricultural industry. Therefore, an extremely strong case should be made for people to understand the basic concepts of agriculture (Terry, 2004).

One hundred forty-four students in two innercity Los Angeles schools participated in a study to evaluate their agricultural knowledge and the effectiveness of literacy activities in improving that knowledge (Mabie and Baker, 1996). The students, a combination of fifth and sixth graders, who were primarily African-American and Hispanic, were pretested about their knowledge of agriculture. They were asked to define agriculture, list three crops growing in California, and recognize common agricultural terminology, such as irrigation and drought. Mabie and Baker (1996) found that the students participating in the study appeared to know little about the food and fiber system. The researchers concluded that every child should grow up with a basic understanding of the food and fiber system and as adults they should be capable of making educated decisions on both agricultural as well as nonagricultural issues.

In a similar study conducted by Reidel (2007), the effects of an agricultural education course on the agricultural literacy of urban student enrollees were examined. …