The Dirt Issue 15 – Youth InFARMation Program

Posted on April 27, 2017
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Sharing the story of Skagit Valley agriculture is always great fun for us, but it’s especially so when we share that story with curious, enthusiastic kids.

SPF’s multi-faceted Youth InFARMation Program is our effort to inform, engage and motivate youth—elementary and high schoolers—to see the exciting, innovative world of Skagit Valley agriculture as it is practiced today and where it’s trending in the future.

Much of our nation’s educational emphasis these days is on what’s referred to as STEM: science, technology, engineering and math. Career opportunities in these disciplines far exceed the available employment pool.  According to the Department of Homeland Security, “the U.S. Department of Labor expects that there will be 1.2 million job openings in STEM-related fields by 2018, but there won’t be enough qualified graduates to fill them.” One way to tackle the problem—and where Youth InFARMation comes in—is to give young students exposure to real-world, STEM-driven work.

Skagit Valley agriculture is loaded with it.

This year, SPF is bringing 5th Graders from the Lucille Umbarger School in Burlington and the Conway School to various agricultural ‘hot spots’ to see technology and innovation in action. These Youth InFARMation Farm Tours are a wonderful opportunity to see STEM at work in such diverse ways as a dairy’s robotic milking parlor and the GPS systems utilized on potato farms.  The students will see cutting edge research demonstrated in hands-on fashion at the WSU NW Research & Extension Center, where earlier this month 76 students on our farm tour extracted DNA from a strawberry!  It was most certainly the dinner table discussion at many homes that night!

STEM + Agriculture = STEAM!

In 2016 we launched the Youth InFARMation Farm Tours with 92 local 5th Graders in attendance; this year the program is expanding to a second school district and more than 125 students. It’s a fun day of out-of-the-classroom learning where agricultural technology and science are tied to the student’s in-school STEM classes. According to the Washington Association of Career and Technical Education, STEM concepts have been included in agricultural curriculum and coursework for decades. The Youth InFARMation Farm Tours will strengthen the links between agricultural training, vocational training and STEM while sparking interest in an exciting, innovative career in the agricultural industry.

Learning by doing is geared to older students.

While our farm tours are geared toward elementary-aged students, we have ambitions for high schoolers as well. For these older students, the independence of researching, writing and developing content in their own “voice” for our Talking Fields program will deepen their understanding of the issues facing the agricultural industry in the Skagit Valley.

Talking Fields is an educational, agri-tourism program presented to the public to raise awareness about agriculture at 10 different sites throughout the Skagit Valley. It is a self-guided driving tour through the valley, covering topics like crop rotation, climate, soil and cooperation among farmers that make the Skagit Valley so special. It also addresses efforts to maintain a healthy, functioning watershed, wildlife habitat and environmental wellbeing. Having high schoolers play a role in developing the message at a Talking Fields site is a deep dive into topics that not only inform their coursework, but very likely their life’s work.

Growing farmers is every bit as important as growing crops.

There is a pressing need to identify and “grow” the next generation of farmers and agricultural innovators.  There are great local programs at the high school and college levels, and we hope that our Youth InFARMation Program will help spark an agricultural interest or affinity early on.  By offering these programs to our next generation, we not only connect kids to their food and the industry that provides it, but hopefully we also inspire consideration of the many opportunities for fulfilling careers when STEM and Skagit Valley Ag collide.

SPF Youth InFARMation Programs are generously supported by Shell Puget Sound Refinery and Tesoro Anacortes Refinery.  We are grateful for their investment in the future of Skagit agriculture and the youth of our community!