First Place Winner
Agsploring the Future
One day in my AP World History class as we discussed the agrarian revolution my teacher said, “Raise
your hand if you know a farmer.” Three students including myself raised a hand in a classroom of at least
twenty students. Three people. Not even my teacher could say he knew a farmer.
It is common to hear that students want to be lawyers, doctors, athletes, psychiatrists, or accountants,
but it is not as common to hear someone in high school say they want to pursue a field in agriculture.
Especially in the heavily populated suburb outside of Washington D.C. where I live. In fact, overall less
than 3% of college students pursue a career in agriculture (Flatt). When peers ask me, “What do you
want to be when you grow up?” I am always quick to respond, “A large animal veterinarian.” I dream of
examining dairy cattle for pregnancy, completing displaced abomasum surgery, postmortems,
administering vaccinations, and doing herd health checks. Of course, in a suburban high school it is not
easy to have access to a 1,200-pound bovine on which to conduct procedures. In addition to taking
Calculus or English Literature, I would love to take large ruminant anatomy or have a suture lab.
Most people enter high school with no clue as to what they will do to support themselves after
graduation. It oftentimes takes exposure to different fields of study in order to spark an interest in a
career path for a young person. In high school, students should be introduced to the groundwork that can
lead to the pursuit of any career. Many high schools have anatomy classes, sports medicine, cooking, or
woodworking, but very few have agriculture education. There are only about 8,200 high school and
middle school agricultural education programs in the United States (Fritsch) out of about 37,000 public
and private secondary schools (U.S. Department of Education). This number is shocking considering
every living organism requires food to survive and the best way to get food is to grow it. Every high
school should require agriculture classes for graduation. If each high school student had just a little more
knowledge about the components that go into the production of food, raising of livestock, and growing of
crops they might be inspired to take action. To make my high school experience more relevant to my
future I would like to have access to agriculture classes.
The technology era we have entered has provided many benefits for high school students, but also some
drawbacks. Increased technology means internet access to thousands of resources. It means information
is available at the touch of one’s finger, but it also means less emphasis on agriculture exposure
considering the nature of agriculture includes a lot of hands on work. With the availability of computers
and phones we often forget that working with one’s hands can be great for a young brain. Learning how
to grow food and manage animals can teach students responsibility, leadership, independence, and
kindness. High school kids are not getting exposure to a wide variety of careers that are essential to the
world because of the lack of agriculture education. Farmers, lab technicians, fishery managers, food
inspectors, livestock veterinarians, and agronomists, are all examples of extremely important careers
that many high school students never hear about. What high schools need are larger gardens for crop
management, aquariums and barns to raise animals, information about food safety, classes that teach
about sustainability and growth, and funding that allows for programs to educate students about the role
they can play in agriculture. No matter where a high school sits geographically, whether it be a large
urban school in the center of Washington D.C. or a small rural school far away from any big city, hands
on experience is essential for learning. Sometimes it is hard to know what you love and are interested in
until you actually jump right in and do it.
When I first discovered my passion for large animal health, I was completing my first 4-H project. 4-H is a
youth organization where kids complete hands-on projects about a variety of different topics (National 4-
H Council). I selected an almost untouched dairy calf named Chanel to train for the county fair over the
summer. At first it was somewhat intimidating having barely ever touched a cow let alone tried to train
one to follow my commands and wear a halter. After weeks and weeks of hard work gaining Chanel’s
trust, I realized how much I care about these large creatures. Not only cows, but all other types of
livestock. Walking around the ring with a completely calm 700-pound animal listening to me was and still
is empowering, strengthening, and something I greatly enjoy. My 4-H project allowed me to see a lot of
what goes on at a dairy farm. It is quite humbling to see the work that occurs so that everyone can reach
into the refrigerator and grab a healthy glass of milk. Something most people may not know is that a cow
drinks an average of 30-50 gallons of water each day, and eats around 20 pounds of forage. They could
not produce the milk that ends up in grocery stores without that amount of food and water. Although this
is only one part of managing a dairy farm, it is an important one because not only is the food we humans
eat grown through agriculture, but so is the food necessary to feed much of the livestock we raise.
Although I may only be a high school student, I know that whatever I do in the future I want it to involve
agriculture. If my school offered classes tailored to a career in agriculture it would help me learn more
about career opportunities in the field. If more students go into careers in agriculture, we will be able to
produce food in a more sustainable manner, create innovative solutions to problems, and be educated
consumers. One thing I know for sure is that agriculture is extremely important. My generation is going to
have to feed seven to nine billion people. That is no little task. It is going to take a lot of dedicated,
intelligent, and motivated people. We have to come up with a way to save the pollinators whose
populations are declining at a rapid rate. We have to use Integrated Pest Management to figure out how
to protect our crops. We have to use sustainable agriculture practices to conserve our soil. We have to
learn more about genetically modified organisms. Agriculture is what connects us to our roots and what
connects us to our future. It is a necessary industry for every single person on Earth. Many students who
are removed a few generations from the farm forget about where their food is coming from. If asked how
did the milk in your refrigerator get there, they would probably not be able to respond. But if there were
more agriculture classes in high schools across America students could explain the entire process from
cow to grocery store.
There are 60,000 jobs expected to open up in agriculture in the next few years (Goecker). That is 60,000
jobs that my generation can fill. This is why agriculture courses are essential for every high school
student no matter if their school is in the heart of a bustling city or in the middle of a corn field. We all
need food and we should be aware of the process and work that goes into producing it.
Flatt, Bev. “7 Reasons to Give Back to FFA”. 2018 National FFA Organization, February 5, 2019, https://www.ffa.org/ffa-week/7-reasons-to-give-back-to-ffa/. Accessed February 6, 2019.
Fritsch, Julie and Ellen Thompson. “2010-2011 National Teach Ag Campaign Summary Report”. U.S. Department of Education, https://www.naae.org/teachag/2011_Tag_report.pdf. Accessed February 2, 2019.
Goecker, et al. “Employment Opportunities for College Graduates in Food, Agriculture, Renewable Natural Resources, and the Environment”. Purdue University, https://www.purdue.edu/usda/employment/. Accessed February 2, 2019.
National 4-H Council. “What is 4-H?”. 4-H.org, https://4-h.org/about/what-is-4-h/. Accessed February 13, 2019.
U.S. Department of Education. “High School Facts at a Glance”. U.S. Department of Education, June 18, 2014, https://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ovae/pi/hs/hsfacts.html. Accessed February 5, 2019.