Academic journal article The Agricultural Education Magazine

Adult Agricultural Literacy Education: Beyond the Conventional Boundaries

Academic journal article The Agricultural Education Magazine

Adult Agricultural Literacy Education: Beyond the Conventional Boundaries

Article excerpt

The notion of agricultural literacy is firmly rooted in a movement that mostly targets elementary and secondary student populations with a curricular focus that is heavily anchored in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) content (Kovar & Ball, 2013; Pense, Leising, Portillo, & Igo, 2005; Russell, McCracken, & Miller, 1990). In this dominant context, agricultural literacy is celebrated as a platform that simultaneously brings 'real life' applications to STEM curricula and provides K-12 students with a deeper understanding of where and how the foods, fibers, and natural resources they consume are produced.

Unfortunately, the agricultural literacy movement has largely left out an important and significant demographic: adult learners. For example. Kovar and Ball (2013) found that only 12.2% of the' studies on agricultural literacy published between 1988-2011 addressed non-educator adults. This exclusion is problematic considering adults are the primary decision-makers when it comes to food and fiber consumption. The argument here is not that there is little value in expanding the agricultural knowledge of K-12 learners based on their consumer agency (or lack thereof). However, there is also little logic to neglecting the agricultural literacy needs and interests of adults, especially when considered in the consumer market context.

Why has the agricultural literacy of adults been overlooked? The answer is that it has not! Adults have been mostly left out of the agricultural literacy narrative specific to formal learning. This near omission is not surprising considering the capacity to reach adult learners through formal education channels are relatively limited. One notable exception is post-secondary education, which represents a formal learning environment with unmet opportunity to expand the agricultural knowledge of young adult learners (Kovar & Ball, 2013). Moreover, not all adults attend a college or university, which further limits the scope of post-secondary education initiatives aimed at the dissemination of agricultural information and knowledge.

Adult agricultural literacy has been mostly left to the advocacy and promotional strategies of agricultural enterprise and associated organizations (e.g., lobby groups, non-government organizations). As such, agricultural information and knowledge is being conveyed to adults largely through marketing and industry-sponsored public awareness campaigns (Gikerson, Swenson, & Anderson, 2016; Holt & Cartmell, 2013). For instance, adult consumers are the targets of conflicting advertisements, public service announcements, and sponsored journalist pieces that convey polarizing, and often biased, arguments for and against genetically modified organisms. Other controversial topics thrust upon adults with the intent of swaying their consumer decisions include, but are' far from limited to animal and livestock rights versus management, chemically-treated versus organic crops, and corporate versus localized production. While' there are educational elements to some strategies and campaigns, most are neither balanced nor complete regardless of the bend in agenda and position that is being promoted.

Adult agricultural educators (e.g., Extension educators) are encouraged to develop and deliver instructional innovations that are designed to bring deeper content and more vibrancy to the adult agricultural literacy domain. Regardless of topical area, such innovations should be designed to ensure accessibility, practicality, and objectivity. These' three' basic attributes, each of which are briefly discussed below, have the potential to lead to practical applications and meaningful contributions to the agricultural literacy of adults.

First, the accessibility of agricultural knowledge primarily hinges on the delivery of information via nonformal and informal channels. As previously indicated, the constraints and boundaries of formal education excludes a large portion of adult learners from the agricultural literacy movements. …

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