Monday, December 11, 2023

Farmers Educating Kids About Agriculture to Understand Food System

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, more than 41,500 farms operate on more than 7 million acres in Virginia. (Adobe Stock)

RICHMOND — Farmers in and around Virginia are working to educate children about agriculture and provide a deeper understanding of their work. These programs don’t just teach kids about farming, but are designed for them to understand where their food comes from. Other goals include dispelling certain ideals about what farming is.

Tyrone Power Cherry III, representative of the Petersburg League of Urban Growers, is working to show the benefits of farming to youth in the area. One thing he hopes kids will learn is that farming is for everyone.

“You automatically assume that it’s just old white guys that farm and they do it in places that are not urban,” Cherry said. “They do it in rural areas or, as a kid would say, ‘they do it in the country.’ So, what we’re dispelling right now is, we’re introducing them to urban agriculture, which is sort of different. The way I explain it to the youth is, ‘You might have heard jazz, you might have heard different types of music, but then you heard hip-hop.’ ”

He is dispelling other misconceptions about farming, including that it is only done in rural areas, and involves back-breaking labor. As a longtime educator, he feels the goal of education is empowerment. By teaching the kids about farming and agriculture, he wants them to understand that they are the future of that industry. He said this is a way to improve the area and lift it out of the food desert that it is in.

Kathryn Eckman, farm-to-school coordinator at the New Roots Community Farm, said watching kids learn about food has been interesting. She finds kids are learning what makes an area a “food desert” and how to change it.

Eckman said one of the bigger challenges is getting families to understand how local and healthier foods can be accessible.

“I think a lot of families in the area didn’t grow up with the same opportunities as their students are and so they kind of maybe have a little bit of rejection around farm to school,” she said. “And, they see things like local food, organic food, things like that. and they’re like, ‘That’s not for us.’ ”

Eckman hopes to have high school students join the program in the future, and teach them how to plan and profit from crops. She said aid should be made available to high schoolers who are interested in farming by connecting them to scholarships that would further their education. Overall, she wants to ensure kids have access to fresh fruits and vegetables, and to enhance their agricultural horizons.

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