Steuben County

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Youth Investigations in Agriculture Lead to Increased Interest and Engagement

August 30, 2019
youth doing strawberry DNA extraction

Date: May 2019

Title: Youth Investigations in Agriculture Lead to Increased Interest and Engagement

Team: Crystal Van Pelt, Tami Mosier

Purdue Extension Goals: Creating Quality Communities, Enhancing Positive Life Skills, Fostering Responsible Land Use and Conservation of Resources, Supporting Career Preparation


According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), "Tomorrow’s agriculture depends on today’s young people."  Agricultural concepts can be used to teach science, math, reading, writing, social studies, and other subjects. Educational opportunities focused on agriculture can help youth in the community learn about and connect with the world around them.

The United States Department of Education says, “Right now, not enough of our youth have access to quality STEM learning opportunities and too few students see these disciplines as springboards for their careers.”

Based on a statement by the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, "To feed the growing global population - expected to reach 9.6 billion by 2050 - the Food and Agricultural Organization projects that agricultural production (food, feed and fiber) will need to increase by 70 percent. If these predictions are accurate, humankind’s greatest challenge may be educating the needed labor to replace the aging American farmer and the skilled workers and scientists needed to support the sustainable growth in agricultural production."

The Steuben County Commissioners support agriculture education as a means to bridge the gap between current and future producers and consumers in our community.

What Has Been Done

The 4‑H Youth Development Extension Educator and the Agriculture and Natural Resources/Community Development Extension Educator of the Purdue Extension Office utilized their talents to implement “Agriculture Investigations” at Carlin Park Elementary, a school in which over 50% of the students receive free or reduced lunches. Located in the City of Angola, the majority of Carlin Park students have limited experience with the rural landscape and agriculture.

Forty-five third grade students explored nine areas of agriculture (gardening/horticulture, seed development, soil science, water quality, environmental conservation, plant genetics and biotechnology, digital agriculture, mapping, and careers in agriculture) in addition to learning business etiquette basics.

While agriculture was the focus, students practiced mathematics through graphing and measuring, critical thinking and analysis via comparison and contrasting activities, and verbal communication as they presented their group work to the rest of the class.

The students celebrated their learning by eating a colorful salad containing roots, stems, leaves, and flowers.


After tabulating and analyzing results of the written post‑evaluation, the data showed high interest and engagement in agriculture as 85% of the students shared at least one thing they learned about agriculture with friends and family, and 97% stated it was fun. This STEM enrichment series revealed 87% felt they learned about science while investigating agriculture. The Educators observed increased enjoyment for students with the science lessons when the students knew it was acceptable to fail at an experiment and to be a little messy. The intent was to show students that while science is fact-based, science experimentation can be fluid and flexible with imperfect and occasionally unintended outcomes.

The number of youth understanding that technology is used in agriculture increased by nearly 50% following the seven session series, and 53% indicated they now know more about agriculture as a result of the series. Respondents recognized their choices influence the environment and that they can make a difference as 72% shared they know they can impact water quality.

At the conclusion of the series, the results showed over 72% retained business etiquette basics as they explored careers in agriculture and professionalism in the workplace.

3rd grade is when the school starts offering a salad bar, but teachers have noticed that many kids do not know what vegetables they like, so they forego getting the salad bar. This group of forty-five youth is ready for the fourth grade salad bar when they return to school in August as they now know what they like and shared they are willing to try new fruits and vegetables.

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