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Guest Opinions

Ag in the Classroom Offers Proactive Strategy

Written by Garret Horton

I am honored to have recently been elected President of the Wyoming Agriculture in the Classroom Board. This is a commitment I do not take lightly. The organization’s mission is near and dear to my heart – to develop an understanding of agriculture and natural resources through education.

I had the extraordinary opportunity to grow up on, a custom feeding operation in central Wyoming. From chopping corn to working calves, I found a love for everything about the life and industry. The opportunities it provided are unrivaled. Anyone who shared that opportunity agrees.

Unfortunately, the numbers of us who have had the opportunity shrink each and every year. I, myself, work outside direct production agriculture. I am blessed to still play a part in my family’s operation. However, I am unable to be involved day-to-day. At this point, I am unsure if I will be able to afford my children the same opportunity I had to grow up on farm. This is something a growing number of our youth face.

Our kids are one, two, three – or even four – generations removed from the farm. Just two percent of our entire U.S. population is made up of America’s farming and ranching families. So, how do we begin to expose the other 98 percent of the American population to the lifestyle and industry we cherish? The answer is one student at a time.

Since the inception of Wyoming Agriculture in the Classroom in 1986, it has been the intent to put agriculture and natural resources education in the hands of our youth. Through the years, this has taken many different forms, but the intent has never changed. The Board has been constantly comprised of the leaders who have cared deeply in the mission and accomplished truly monumental things. I am humbled to be a part of an organization that has been blessed with outstanding leadership. Thank you for building an organization poised to tackle great things. Because of their efforts, we are ready to make a difference in our communities.

Recently, the opportunity to fulfill our organization’s mission presented itself. New science standards have recently been adopted, and all our schools will be searching for material to meet these standards. Enter the Wyoming Stewardship Project – perfectly aligned with changing educational landscape to provide the narrative our classrooms have been missing. Why should our schools be purchasing textbooks and materials from companies in Chicago, New York or San Francisco? We have all the material and resources we need right here in our very own state to create lessons that challenge our students to be critical thinkers. This project provides students with the facts and empowers them with the opportunity to build their own conclusions.

The Wyoming Stewardship Project is Wyoming Agriculture in the Classroom’s initiative to develop project-based lessons for students, not just as a supplemental activity or a break from their normal course of studies, but a new engaging approach to science, math, language arts and social studies. The best part, these lessons are built for Wyoming educators by Wyoming educators. The key concepts were built through a gathering of community members in the agriculture, mineral and energy, and outdoor recreation and tourism industries. All of which are central to our state’s economic wellbeing.

Obviously, as a Board member of Wyoming Agriculture in the Classroom, as the name depicts, agriculture is the center of my and our collective hearts. However, we have recognized that all these industries working hand-in-hand, managing our state’s resources tells the complete story of Wyoming. The story that needs to be in the hands of all our students. The very students that will one day not only be our state’s leaders, law makers, policy builders, but our nation’s.

Now I climb on my soapbox. We in agriculture have dropped the ball. All we do is fight misinformation. We are reactive. Policy is generated at the highest levels with no regard to farmers and ranchers which it directly affects. Farm and ranch organizations come out in opposition, reactive. A company drops demand of our product because of public sentiment rooted in nothing but fear, readily admitting there is no scientific evidence to support. Growers come together to get the facts out there, but the damage is done. We are reactive.

With the Wyoming Stewardship Project, we have the opportunity to be proactive. Put the knowledge in the hands of our students. Allow them to make decisions understanding all sides of the issues. It was a little over a year ago now that the Wyoming Stewardship Project really took shape. At the time, we as a Board could not fathom just how big this was. We hit some bumps in the road but have plowed on, knowing the material being created today could shape our policy makers of tomorrow. I struggle to put into words how excited I am about this project and to be a part of it. As agriculturalists and stewards of our natural resources, I think you all should be just as excited.

For more information about the Wyoming Stewardship Project or to donate, contact our Executive Director Jessie Dafoe at 307-369-1749.