“Where did the onion on this sandwich come from?” asked Mark Dickman, a farmer from Mt. Angel to a classroom full of seventh grade students at Laurel Ridge Middle School in Sherwood during an Adopt a Farmer classroom visit. Students had learned about onion production at Dickman Farms during a field trip and most answers were the store, the farm or the farmers market. While true, these are simple answers in comparison to the complex web of how an onion is grown, harvested, transported, stored, marketed, sold, delivered, distributed, stocked, and so on before a consumer cuts it up for a sandwich.

Farmer Mark diagramed this tangled web highlighting the array of jobs connected to agriculture by peppering students with more questions: How does the onion get to the store? Where does the truck pick up the onions? How did the onions get on the pallet? Students caught on to Farmer Mark’s questions regarding our food system as he went through each item in the picnic lunch he brought to class. This type of exploration gives a more complete story of all of the people involved in between farm and fork.

Not only are students able to better understand the bigger picture of how food is grown and ends up in their lunch, they also realize how many careers there are related to agriculture.

According to a report by USDA and Purdue University, there are an estimated 57,900 high-skilled job openings every year in food, agriculture, renewable natural resources, and environmental fields across the country. There is a shortage of 22,500 qualified high-skilled workers annually! This is a huge opportunity for the natural resources community to inspire and engage with the next generation who will have careers in management, business, food and biomaterials production, as well as education, communication, and government – all impacting the future of our industry.

We are intentionally weaving career awareness into the Adopt a Farmer program. Students see a variety of jobs on the farm during field trips and we are currently in the process of creating a classroom activity to explore the importance of not only jobs on the farm, but all of those between farm and fork, just like Farmer Mark talked about. By profiling actual people working in careers on and for the farms students have visited, we can help them discover the education required, skills needed, and how science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) play a role in Oregon agriculture today.

The endeavor of showcasing careers in agriculture is not one Oregon Aglink is doing alone.

There has been a groundswell of focus on STEM in K-12 as well as Career and Technical Education (CTE), both of which the natural resource community can engage with and benefit from. Both FFA and 4H promote leadership development through agriculture. Oregon Agriculture in the Classroom will be launching an Agriculture Career Exploration project. Even the Oregon Department of Agriculture has identified “promoting Oregon food and agriculture as an exciting career choice” as a key objective in its recently released 2018-2023 strategic plan.