The Need for Agricultural Literacy

Article excerpt

Agricultural education traditionally has focused on preparing individuals for careers in agriculture. According to the National Research Council's 1988 report, Understanding Agriculture: New Directions for Education, agriculture is too important a topic to be taught only to students who are considering careers in the field. The committee responsible for the report concluded that at least some instruction about agriculture should be taught to all students regardless of career goals or whether they live in urban, suburban or rural areas.

From this conclusion came the concept of "agricultural literacy," or education about agriculture. But less than 2 percent of the U.S. population is involved in agricultural production, so why should the other 98 percent be agriculturally literate?

For the first time in our history, a vast majority of the population is more than one generation removed from production agriculture. No longer do children have a grandparent or close relative who is a farmer or rancher. As a result, most Americans know little about food and fiber production, its social and economic significance in the United States and its links to human health and environmental quality.

One consequence of the populace's lack of agricultural knowledge is the development of public policy that adversely affects the production of food and fiber. In 1984 Mawby stated that "many bad decisions affecting food production can be traced to a lack of understanding about agriculture on the part of the 98 percent of our people who don't live on farms." The W. K. Kellogg Foundation in 1984 reported that there were few issues of greater importance than an adequate supply of food, proper use of food and an understanding of the industry that produces food.

Other prominent researchers have called for all citizens to develop a minimum level of knowledge about the production of food in order for reasoned decisions to be made about policies and issues that affect agriculture. …