Agriculture teachers share relevance of farming with students
In Prince William County, Virginia’s second-most populated locality, Brentsville District High School horticulture teacher Amy Beard uses her farming background to connect with students who know little about agriculture.
“It’s a good challenge, because we’re able to open these kids’ minds to all the possibilities agriculture holds,” she explains. “It’s amazing when they see those possibilities and realize they can do something in agriculture even if they never thought in a million years they could.”
Beard’s students are responsible for the school’s greenhouse and raised garden beds, used for coursework related to plant science and small-scale farming. In teaching them vertical gardening and companion planting techniques, Beard says her goal is to help students understand the importance of agriculture and recognize that even the smallest farms play a crucial role.
“If we only have half an acre, it’s all about what we can do with that half-acre,” she says. “It’s definitely important, especially in our area, where available land is starting to get smaller and smaller, to realize all the ways we can contribute in our community.”
Agriculture education varies from teacher to teacher, but what doesn’t change is their commitment to enlightening students about Virginia’s top industry.
At Powhatan County Middle School, ag instructor Jennifer Bowry also enjoys educating students about agriculture’s many possibilities.
Through an agriscience curriculum, her students learn real-life applications of what they’re taught in other classes, like cellular respiration and photosynthesis while growing vegetables.
“They’ll start telling me, ‘Wow, we just did that in math class,’ or ‘Hey, we’re doing that in science.’ It’s really important to me that they find that connection with the other things they’re doing,” Bowry says.
She tailors her class so everyone experiences something new, including animal science, poultry production, forestry, soils, horticulture and landscape management. Through a program called Trout in the Classroom, students are responsible for raising trout from eggs to maturity— feeding them and monitoring the tank’s chemical and pH levels. That teaches them about wildlife, fisheries management, recordkeeping and scientific applications. Bowry also explores the wide variety of agriculture career options that go beyond students’ preconceived notions.
At Holston High School in Washington County, freshmen often receive their first exposure to agriculture through horticulture instructor Lawrence Cox’s curriculum and greenhouse projects.
Cox, who grew up on a beef cattle farm, said agriculture literacy is his main objective.
“I just want them to understand what it takes to be a farmer; it’s not for everybody,” he says. “And my goal, from a horticulture perspective, is that they understand how to take care of plants. They’ll become homeowners someday, wanting to raise their own gardens and maybe get their kids involved.”
Cox’s students cultivate ornamentals and vegetables for an annual plant sale, where they learn skills associated with public relations, marketing and business. They determine their best sellers, costs and how to set prices.
“We have a lot of community support,” Cox says. “Teaching is where I want to be, and teaching horticulture is my passion.”
The agriculture industry employs more than 24 million U.S. workers.