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Opinion by Jessie Dafoe

Growing Wyoming's Next Generation by: Jessie Dafoe

There is an unspoken passion in a rancher’s way of life. Rising early and working late, there is a bond and special friendship with your neighbors who are miles away. The life of an agriculturist is a chosen path of hardship, challenges and unremarkable rewards – from losing your crop to a hail storm to saving a calf’s life on a cold winter night. Thank you is not simply enough to cover the appreciation we have for the dedication in the agricultural industry.

Agriculture is successful over the years because it holds itself accountable to the principle of sustainability. Wyoming was built by families who showcased true grit to survive the elements and provide a way of life for future generations. They were true stewards of our land, knowing that this was not a way for them to live today, but for their children and children’s children to live from. Nourishing generations to come is twofold, in the way you pass your legacy to your children and the way you care for your land. 

My great-grandparents homesteaded our ranch northeast of Cheyenne in 1910, and we are still ranching there today. My family would host ranch days for each child’s elementary class, a school year highlight that grew my passion to share this way of life with my peers. Learning how to share our story from a young age, I was inspired to work for Wyoming Agriculture in the Classroom (WAIC) with the mission to develop an understanding of agriculture and natural resources through education.

The task of educating Wyoming’s next generation is one that is not taken lightly, but something we strive for and focus on every day. It is a powerful opportunity to make a difference in the lives of students across our great state. One of my favorite programs is our summer institute where educators from across the state travel to learn more about Wyoming agriculture and natural resources. We rotate the location every year to showcase the diversity and beauty of Wyoming. Hands-on learning is provided to help educators receive a true taste of agriculture and understanding with lessons provided to take back to the classroom for students to in turn experience the same excitement and “ah-ha” moment that their teacher did. 

I will never forget the faces of the teachers who put their gloved hand into a cow’s rumen (stomach) in Hulett. Nor will I soon forget the excitement of our educators suited up at the Bryant Bee Honey Company in Worland this past summer. Engaging educators in these agriculture communities is one of the most rewarding aspects of our job. Equipping the educators with these experiences to teach our next generation is powerful. 

Unfortunately, it is not possible for every teacher and student to visit an agriculture and or natural resource site. Therefore, we are embarking on a mission to bring agriculture and natural resources to every classroom through our K-12 curriculum: Technology to Teach and Tell (T³).  We are piloting our kindergarten curriculum in classrooms this year. The idea is to start at a basic level of students understanding where their food comes from and why a light turns on when they flip a switch. This curriculum is aligned to common core standards, each grade level progresses with rigor and agriculture and natural resource concepts. All the lessons are project based and with this pilot curriculum kindergarteners are grinding wheat and planting seeds. We are excited about this project and hope that the excitement of this curriculum ignites across the state.

These programs and the many other programs that are the foundation of our organization would not have been possible without the passion of the people who began WAIC and fought for the growth and importance of our mission. We would not be able to have this impact without the many supporters of both time and resources who believe in what we are doing and the stewardship of dedicated board members.

If you are involved in agriculture, you were stirred by the Paul Harvey piece during the super bowl. National Agriculture Week gives agriculturalists the opportunity to share those feelings with others we meet. As we celebrate this week, we tip our hats to the farmers and ranchers who work every day to provide us with our basic needs of food and fiber. We thank the advocates of agriculture who are working to share our story. We commend the educators who take time to teach agriculture and natural resources lessons, principles and importance to our students. We are grateful for our opportunity to help grow Wyoming’s next generation.