The cost of education
By Kelli Loos
Editor’s note: Trent’s wife, Kelli, is taking over “Loos Tales” this week.
Spring is the time for school field trips. I admire teachers who take their kids on a field trip and have even greater respect for those who try to incorporate education into the trip. Kids can learn when they having fun, so why not make it a truly memorable experience?
County Extension teams organize agriculturally themed tours for kids each year. I have been involved with these for years and typically share the story of beef. My presentation includes the life cycle of beef, beef byproducts and beef nutrition including all the benefits of eating beef. All of this is packed into about 12 to 16 minutes. If you’re lucky, you can still squeeze in a few questions from the kids before the bell rings and they move on.
This year I talked about the swine industry on one day of Life on the Farm. We covered the life cycle, the byproducts and nutritional benefits of pork. I went into the benefits of raising hogs in buildings including protection from the environment, predators and disease. This opened the door to discuss why we didn’t have a sow and piglets on display for the kids to see because of the extreme risk of the deadly porcine epidemic diarrhea virus, or PEDv, that is sweeping the country and killing millions of piglets. The kids were very curious to know if humans could get it and why we couldn’t stop the spread of it. We discussed biosecurity and how researchers are working to find a vaccination.
Not only are the kids very interested in what we are teaching them but also the parents and teachers were soaking it up too. I can’t tell you how many adults came up to tell me how interesting this information was, and they were surprised at how much they really didn’t know about modern livestock agriculture.
The cost of education is high but the cost of failure to educate is even higher. The “price” for educating more than 600 students and about 120 adults was a little preparation in gathering my materials and eight hours off the farm to present. Is that too much to pay for sharing our story with consumers? And what would happen if more producers took the time to do events like these? If consumers want to know where their food comes from and who is producing it, we need to be the ones to tell them. It doesn’t have to be a full-time job. Every person you share your story with can help turn the tide on the perceptions consumers have about their food and how it is raised.
When you equate vaccinating the pigs or calves to the kids getting a flu shot, they get it. When you correlate giving a calf an ear tag to getting your ears pierced, they realize it is not some torturous procedure. When we explain that we tag calves to help keep them from getting separated from their mothers and you relate it to that time they got lost in the mall, they can understand it. We talked about farrowing crates and why we use them to save the lives of the babies because a 400-pound sow on top of a 5-pound piglet was not an image they could argue with. You could tell by the look on the faces of the adults that this contentious practice even made sense to those who might have thought they were against crates just a few minutes earlier.
This education is vitally important to all of agriculture. Some commodity groups are doing an outstanding job with the development of materials for use in educational settings. Some others, beef in particular, have completely dropped the ball. There have been absolutely no youth educational materials developed on a national level with checkoff dollars. People want information. If we don’t have it available for them, they will get it somewhere else.
I would encourage you to go to teachkind.org and take a look at how well People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals has organized the site for teachers to download or order hundreds of free teaching resources. They show the worst possible side of livestock agriculture and encourage kids and teachers to go meatless. Millions of dollars are being pumped into this program and we are falling behind.
Kids are very impressionable but so are the parents and teachers that see these messages. Where is our message? Are we taking the time to give them our side of the story or are we content with PETA speaking on our behalf? Call your beef board reps and let them know how important these educational materials are to the future of our industry before school lunches go vegan too!
Editor’s note: Trent Loos is a sixth generation United States farmer, host of the daily radio show, Loos Tales, and founder of Faces of Agriculture, a non-profit organization putting the human element back into the production of food. Get more information at www.FacesOfAg.com, or email Trent at firstname.lastname@example.org.