August 1999 // Volume 37 // Number 4 // Tools of the Trade // 4TOT1

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Ag Science Fairs: The Next Wave in Agricultural Literacy

The majority of the U.S. population can be classified as ignorant about agriculture. Ag Science Fairs are a way to combat agricultural illiteracy. Ag Science Fairs give children the opportunity to learn about agriculture outside of the classroom, while allowing the community to teach what agriculture has to offer. Ag Science Fairs are one-time experiential learning events that show case many aspects of agriculture using specially designed curriculum.

Demaris A. Blackburn
Graduate Student
Texas A&M University
College Station, Texas
Internet address:

The United States as a society can be described as ignorant about agriculture. As the world's population increases, agricultural industries remain important if the world is to sustain a growing population. With the need for increased agriculture production comes the need for agricultural literacy.

People in the United States generally do not worry about the supply of high quality, low cost agricultural products. Americans are becoming increasingly suburban, with less direct contact with the agricultural industry (Sorenson, 1987).

Perhaps a greater problem is that many people perceive agriculture as only farming and ranching. This perception is evident in children. Elementary school children interpret the industry as the farmer, the cow, the tractor, the rancher, and many other stereotypes (DeWerff, 1989). Many times children have the idea that food simply comes from the store.

Swan and Donaldson (1970) pointed out that many misconceptions existing about farms, plants, animals, and other aspects of agriculture and life can be corrected when children are taught about agriculture. The AgriFood Education Program of the Texas A&M University Agriculture Program is trying to combat those misconceptions. The mission is to provide experiential and outdoor learning events on agriculture, natural resources, biotechnology, food, and environmental topics. These learning events are generically known as Ag Science Fairs.

An Ag Science Fair is a one-time outdoor experiential learning event planned and implemented by county Extension agents and community volunteers. The event features ten to twelve educational stations demonstrating how animals and plants are grown and processed for food and fiber. An Ag Science Fair also illustrates the link agriculture has to social and economic factors as well as to human health and environmental quality. The hands-on program supplements the agricultural curriculum that fulfills the Texas Education Agency's essential knowledge and skills requirement.

An Ag Science Fair gives elementary school children the opportunity to learn about the agricultural industry in their particular area. In 1997, 30 Texas counties hosted Ag Science Fair events reaching approximately 39,000 youths. There was a 100% increase in counties participating in agricultural literacy in 1998. Sixty counties hosted Ag Science Fairs reaching over 100,000 youth. That number is expected to increase in 1999.

The idea of teaching children about agriculture is not new. Educational philosophers such as Socrates, Aristotle, Pestalozzi, Rousseau, Comenius and Benjamin Franklin all recognized the value of a child's learning about agriculture (Snowden & Shoemake, 1973). Teaching elementary-age children may help develop a better understanding and perception of agriculture as they grow older. McReynolds (1985) proposed that the earlier in life information about agriculture is presented to children, the more receptive they are to accepting and applying wholesome concepts about the topic the rest of their lives.

Ag Science Fairs are vehicles to bring agricultural literacy to children. Many states have a required curriculum that must be followed. Often, teachers, due to requirements and time constraints, are unable to teach beyond the required curriculum. Balschweid, Thompson and Cole (1997) concluded that "teachers felt the greatest barriers to implementing agriculture into existing lessons were the time necessary for curricula changes and access to necessary supplies/materials/information" (p. 41).

Teachers are required to follow a specific curriculum set by the state and must teach certain objectives and accomplish certain goals during the school year. In Texas, where the Texas Assessment of Academic Skills (TAAS) determines the fate of many schools, teachers have little opportunity to teach outside the TAAS curriculum. Hence, the students are not taught about agriculture unless it is touched on in geography or state history. An Ag Science Fair brings the children out of the classroom and allows the community the opportunity to educate them about agriculture in their area and the impact it has on everyone.


Balschweid, M. A., Thompson, G. W., & Cole, R.L. (1997). The effects of an agricultural literacy treatment on participating K-12 teachers and their curricula. Paper presented at the Proceedings of the 1997 National Agricultural Education Research Meeting, Las Vegas, NV.

DeWerff, W. (1989). Education in agriculture: Not just a high school matter. The Agricultural Education Magazine, 62, (1), 14-15.

McReynolds, G. (1985). Mr. Jay and farmland. The Agricultural Education Magazine, 58(4), 17-18.

Snowden, O. L. & Shoemake, R. G. (1973). Elementary programs for career education in agriculture. The Agricultural Education Magazine, 45, (7), 149-150, 153.

Sorenson. D. D. (1987). How to keep 'em up on the farm and farming. The American School Board Journal, 174, 6-28.

Swan, M. D. & Donaldson, G. W. (1970). The agricultural educator's role in helping elementary pupils learn about agriculture. The Agricultural Education Magazine, 42, (11), 282-283.