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All College Majors Need Agriculture Education

I recently attended two one-day conferences where agriculture was the focus of discussion – but neither was sponsored by an agriculture organization.

The first was a meeting of current and future registered dietitians. The second was coordinated by masters of business administration (MBA) students and focused on the sustainability of farming.

These meetings gave me a chance to think about an aspect of agriculture I’ve rarely considered: that agriculture is a part of more than just the obvious careers. 

It would be hard to find a college major that doesn’t have anything to do with agriculture. Why aren’t college agriculture programs reaching out and engaging students in other majors?

I thought back to my days as an animal science major at Virginia Tech. I remember the Block and Bridle club held a Meat-In Day to promote the meat industry, but I don’t remember any other events that engaged students outside of agriculture.  

It’s worth repeating that agriculture must engage people outside our field. Colleges and universities have many opportunities to interact with and engage students across campus to talk about agriculture, especially since many of those students are already talking, reading, and writing about it.

I looked at the list of majors offered by my alma mater. Here are just a few with a brief description of each from the website and reasons I think the college of agriculture and life sciences could engage with each.  

Architecture

Architecture is a combination of artistic ideals, cultural forces, and physical facts.

This major is part of the school of architecture, which also includes industrial design, landscape architecture, environmental policy and planning, and real estate.  

If you read any magazines or watch home improvement shows, you probably have seen a barn turned into a house. Aside from that, farms need houses, barns, and other structures. Processing facilities, such as one that converts sweet potatoes into french fries, need a designer. Landscape architecture uses nursery plants, which is a large part of the agriculture industry. Real estate agents need to understand the area they are selling, including any land preservation programs such as voluntary agricultural districts that may be on property they are selling or are adjoining it. You can’t, or shouldn’t, discuss environmental policy without including agriculture.  

Human Nutrition, Foods, and Exercise

The mission of human nutrition, foods, and exercise is to discover, translate, and disseminate health-related advances in nutrition, food, and exercise sciences.

Registered dietitians are food influencers, working to improve the health of their clients, including a focus on having a “safe, sustainable, and nutritious food supply,” according to the American Dietetic Association. In talking with professors and students in nutrition programs, their college programs don’t typically include farm visits or presentations by farmers. Yet, they make recommendations on food, including the type of food their clients should purchase. If you think about how many marketing terms are used on food products, it emphasizes why agriculture needs to be engaged with by students in this major.

Fashion Merchandising and Design

Prepares students who want to design, develop, and merchandise products…in the global fashion industry.

You can’t have fashion without textiles, a class that looks at the processing of fibers to fabric. Cotton is used in almost every type of clothing, with approximately 57% of U.S. cotton made into clothing (National Cotton Council of America). I wonder how many of these students have visited a cotton field, seen cotton harvested, or been to a cotton ginning mill.

Finance

 A degree in finance provides training and specialization in all aspects of raising and allocating financial capital. Financial management encompasses the sources and uses of funds in all sectors of the economy.

Farmers need bankers. We need bankers who understand our industry, where we pay for all inputs before selling the first of our crop. As our industry changes and more farmers expand into processing, they must put together financing packages. For example, a sweet potato packing line, including the building, can cost over $10 million dollars. I recently visited a farm that added an IQF (individually quick-frozen) line that can freeze fruits and vegetables. This was an investment of more than $1 million.  

German/Russian/Spanish or any other language  

Includes instruction on the history, culture, politics, and language of one of the world’s largest countries.

Agriculture is an international market. According to the Economic Research Service, the top U.S. agriculture exports are grains, soybeans, livestock products, and horticulture products. In order to market our products to these countries, we need to understand the culture and buying habits of the citizens.  

National Security and Foreign Affairs

The  National Security and Foreign Affairs   program provides a hands-on, practical approach to understand the broad range of threats to national and global security in the 21st century. You will examine U.S. strategy and foreign policy to analyze threats that challenge security both at home and abroad.

A farmer once told me farming was a matter of national security; a nation that cannot feed itself cannot defend itself. She was right. The House Committee on Agriculture addresses food security, including this recap of a meeting where military leaders discussed the link between agricultural policy and national security.

 Neuroscience    

The mission of the neuroscience degree program is to promote the advancement and integration of knowledge about the brain and nervous system, and how they react to and are affected by the vast milieu of stimuli they encounter.

I have to admit this one stumped me, so I did what everyone does – searched the internet. Among the many articles connecting neuroscience to agriculture was this one, looking at decision making in agriculture. 

Psychology

P romote the advancement and integration of knowledge about the brain and nervous system, and how they react to and are affected by the vast milieu of stimuli they encounter.

Farming is stressful. The number of farmer suicides is increasing. We need more professionals who understand the demands and stresses of our industry.  

Residential Environments and Design  

Focuses on designing, selecting, and marketing residential spaces and products.

Many new developments include community gardens or farms. Often called agrihoods, developments are built around a farm, where residents are expected to work raising food that will benefit members of the community.  

Public and Urban Affairs

It offers students interested in urban issues and public policy the opportunity to study these areas within a liberal arts tradition, and also to develop preprofessional skills in planning, policy analysis, and public management. Faculty members with backgrounds in economics, environmental studies, geography, history, sociology, law, political science, planning, and engineering work together to provide students with a sound understanding of how communities (large and small) work, and how to facilitate positive change within them.

Policy affects agriculture on the local, state, national, and international levels. In North Carolina we have seen a number of food policy councils formed to look at sustainable food systems within the region. These councils have members from different parts of the food system and community. In additional to land use, these councils also look at food security and access.

In this new year, I challenge agriculture programs to engage students in other majors. I’ll even extend this challenge to engage with students at colleges and universities that don’t have agriculture programs but are studying food and food systems.    

Everyone eats, and as I’ve shown above, any major can be tied to agriculture. What are your suggestions for how college agriculture programs could engage with students across campus?

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