In one of his beloved children’s books Dr. Suess wrote, “You’re off to great places! Today is your day! Your mountain is waiting, so…get on your way.”  I feel like this quote accurately describes an opportunity that I experienced about a month ago in Washington, D.C.

In the middle of March I traveled to Washington, D.C. as one of 60 student representative from the Agriculture Future of America organization to be an advocate for agriculture on Capitol Hill during National Ag Day.  National Ag Day, March 19th, is a day to recognize and celebrate the abundance provided by agriculture.  National Ag Day, and my trip, were both funded by the Agriculture Council of America.

ag-day-logoDuring my stay in Washington, D.C., I attended two days of training sessions for National Ag Day, participated in National Ag Day on Capitol Hill where I met with Representative Kinzinger and Senator Durbin, taught an Ag literacy lesson to urban 7th graders, and spent a final day doing roundtable discussions about international agricultural policy and trade.

Perhaps the most rewarding experience during my time in D.C. was getting to teach two urban 7th grade classes about agriculture.  In order to do this, I was chosen by the National Association of Agricultural Educators to be one of six future agriculture teachers and three mentor teachers who would teach an ag literacy lesson on National Ag Day.

University of Illinois Ag students in Washington, DC

The topic that I chose to teach the students about was Urban Agriculture, and how they could become urban agriculturalist themselves. After some explanation, the students were able to make their own “garden in a glove” were they could see vegetable seeds germinate and eventually be able to transplant these seeds into an urban garden. Little did I know that the school was in the process of completing a rooftop garden where these students would be able to transplant their vegetable plants.

Harfst working with DC studentsIn reflection, I realized that these students were truly interested in agriculture and how their food is produced; however, they had never been in a situation where they were able to ask someone involved in agriculture.  I spent some time tell the students how I grew up on a farm and raised pigs, and the students had an overwhelming number of students about that. One of the students asked me, “Living on a farm means you live a barn with the animals, right? You don’t have a house?’

Overall, my experience in Washington D.C. was humbling because I was able to see agriculture in a different light that I always have.  It’s much easier to advocate for agriculture when you’re standing a mile or less from a cornfield, but I was teaching students who have most likely never seen a cornfield ever.  It is my hope that these students will remember my time spent with them on National Ag Day because they are future consumers who will be making the decisions that affect the agricultural way of life.

Liz HarfstLiz Harfst
University of Illinois Agriculture Education student

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