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Helping students choose careers in agriculture 

Canada’s farmers are experiencing a chronic labour crisis. While they struggle to find workers from a dwindling labour pool, young people leaving rural schools often head to urban centres in search of opportunities.

Organizations such as Inside Education and Agriculture in the Classroom dedicate themselves to bringing agricultural education into the grade school curriculum. Their hope is that by providing students with information on the opportunities in rural areas, more young people will consider a future in agriculture, or in an agricultural secondary education program.

The Alberta Cattle Feeders’ Association (ACFA) sees this and other learning options as valuable for the future of the cattle feeding business. 

Another program, Alberta Education’s Career and Technology Foundations (CTF) is offered to students in grades 5 to 9. As a career development program, it helps students explore their interests and passions, developing learning experiences based on potential careers and occupations.

The program is based on 14 learning outcomes, and students are taught vital skills such as problem solving, planning, decision-making, collaboration and more. Teachers are given the freedom to source their own materials and create lessons that relate to the interests of their students.

To help them create the most engaging and relevant programs, teachers have access to a suite of CTF Challenges, or student-focused learning experiences. Examples include Water for Life in which students explore local watersheds from various perspectives, or What’s your Business?, in which students design, create, market and sell a product, performance or service.

Teachers also have access to external resources, such as those offered by Ag for Life.

An opportunity for agricultural producer groups

Alberta Education has encouraged external stakeholders to become involved in creating CTF Challenges based on their own industry or sector. Templates are provided to help create suitable challenges. Some examples of industry-specific challenges include marketing, vehicle maintenance and energy.

ACFA is working to produce a variety of challenges which will relate the cattle feeding business to curriculum-based outcomes and provide insights into the opportunities that exist in the industry and the different skills required.

Some of the other resources and programs available to teachers and students can be found on ACFA’s Education and Training Programs page.

Working together to learn about conservation and agriculture

The Ann and Sandy Cross Conservation Area, about 15 minutes southwest of Calgary, has long been a favourite field trip destination for local schools and educators.

Now, thanks to a collaboration with Inside Education – a non-profit group supporting multiple perspectives on environmental and natural resources in Alberta – the area could become a site for ongoing agricultural education.

“Inside Education and Cross Conservation bring complementary expertise to agriculture education,” said Kathryn Wagner, program director at Inside Education.

Inside Education has a suite of agriculture education programs, including classroom presentations, agriculture career summits, school garden grants and teacher professional development programs supporting the K-12 curriculum. In the coming years, they hope to add a provincewide youth agriculture education summit, field-based programs and classroom resources.

Cross Conservation offers experiential nature and discovery programs to children of all ages.

How a collaboration could work

The collaboration came through an introduction by the Alberta Cattle Feeders’ Association (ACFA).

Kathryn said initial ideas include credit-based programs, an agriculture demonstration site for both student programs and teacher professional development, and field trips that use the conservation area, local producers and other sites.

The goal is to provide up-to-date, relevant and meaningful agriculture education to inspire young people to be engaged environmental stewards and responsible decision-makers. 

“Working together with Cross Conservation, we can encourage students and teachers to consider how environmental, societal and economic values can be balanced on the landscape,” Kathryn said.

Representatives from Inside Education and ACFA plan to tour the Ann and Sandy Cross Conservation Area this summer.

You can learn more about agriculture education in How student-managed farming is teaching the next generation of beef producers, and How Olds College is preparing agriculture students for the future.

This is the third post in our Agriculture Education series. 

How Inside Education is bringing agricultural insights to the next generation

Producing food for a hungry world is an important job, and one farmers have been managing for generations. But today’s farmers have considerations that didn’t concern their predecessors – such as how to produce food while demonstrating their concern for the environment, and how to deal with a chronic labour crisis.

One organization is supporting Alberta’s agriculture industry by introducing these considerations to grade school students. Inside Education is a not-for-profit organization dedicated to inspiring and engaging young stewards by incorporating environmental and natural resource education into their classrooms.

Kathryn Wagner, program director at Inside Education, explained that our society is often polarized about issues that matter most. “Our ability to balance a healthy environment with a productive economy demands a careful look at the range of values at play — the spectrum that lies between black and white,” she said. “Our unique programs immerse learners into the big picture, giving them a balanced look at key issues. We challenge everyone to become responsible citizens by understanding the science, technology and issues that affect our world.”

How Inside Education works

For over 30 years, Inside Education has been teaching students about the diverse natural resource topics and issues affecting the agriculture, energy and forestry industries. They have four program areas:

“It all culminates in us bringing current, accurate, locally relevant information, to teachers and students across Alberta, to complement the curriculum,” said Kathryn.

“There are lots of different places where these sorts of topics align,” she said, “from science and social studies to food systems, sustainability and careers.”

Inside Education and cattle feeders

Inside Education works directly with more than 25,000 students every year, in 80-plus communities. In its recent agriculture program, 28 teachers participated in a feedlot tour so they could see firsthand what the industry looks like and what happens in a cattle feeding operation.

“Agriculture is such a fundamental topic of conversation here in the province – it guides our society, our economy, and our environment,” said Kathryn. “If we can provide these experiences and this information to young people, then we will have young stewards who are ready to go on and shape what our agricultural landscape will look like for years to come.”

Careers in agriculture

Organizations such as Inside Education could also play a role in helping alleviate the agricultural labour shortage. “There are so many misconceptions about what it means to work in agriculture,” Kathryn explained. “Students may want to leave their communities, and we can show them opportunities available in their own backyards and how they can contribute to sustainable agriculture in Alberta.”

In 2016, the Alberta Cattle Feeders Association (ACFA) attended Inside Education’s Youth Summit, in Brooks, Alta., where junior high school students were introduced to careers in agriculture, including the cattle feeding sector. It’s events like these that can help excite students about the many career opportunities in farming.

In earlier blog posts, we have written about other organizations or programs that are helping educate young people about the opportunities in agriculture, including Agriculture in the Classroom and Career Connections.