by Ethan Paquet
Agriculture in the Classroom PEI (AITC-PEI) educates students about the food they eat, where it comes from, the farmers who grow it, how it gets to their plates, and the occupations in the industry.
Over the past six years, the genAG PEI program has challenged high school students to inform and inspire their peers to consider careers in agriculture. Students research the diverse and abundant career opportunities within the agriculture and agri-food sectors.
“The brilliance of the genAG PEI program is that students work collaboratively as marketing teams to organize a school event, create inspiring ways to promote agricultural careers to their peers, and then implement their marketing plan at the school event with the goal of reaching as many of their peers as possible,” says Marilyn Balderston, genAG PEI Coordinator.
“Our goal is to get students involved by planting seeds of the impact agriculture has on us. We want them to know that whatever it is they love to do, there is a place for them to do it in the agricultural industry.”
The program is offered in three to four Island high schools each semester. Students in Agri-Science, Animal Science, Culinary and even Leadership classes have participated in the genAG PEI program.
Teachers and students visit AITC-Canada’s thinkAG website to explore careers in agriculture, education & training opportunities related to their careers of interest and the many scholarships, bursaries, and grants available across Canada.
“In past years, COVID-19 has made things a bit challenging, but this year we were also able to bring students to farms to get some hands-on experience.”
As the research portion ends, students split into marketing teams to begin organizing and promoting an AG Day event where they can deliver their knowledge to the rest of their school.
“They might present to other classes, or they may hold mini-events throughout the semester leading up to their main event. It is very student-driven. They are the ones who get the hype going and get others involved.
“genAG PEI is growing tremendously in its grassroots popularity with students. We are seeing an uptake in students taking agriculture courses in direct response to participating in genAG school events. They want to be a part of team that brings genAG to life in the following year.”
A case in point is Colonel Gray High School. “The efforts of teacher Suba Aiyer embracing the genAG PEI program has helped to change the educational landscape and school culture.
“Students are flocking to the agriculture courses because they want to be a team member planning and implementing the Colonel Gray Farm Day & Agriculture Expo! It has become a very special day of the year for everyone at the school. Close to a thousand people are significantly impacted – students, teachers, administrators and support staff alike!”
In an effort to show gratitude and give back to the industry, Chris Higginbotham’s Animal Science students at Three Oaks Senior High School held a fundraiser during their AG Day, where they raised $450 to donate to an Island agricultural charity. Three Oaks’ donation has been split between Farmers Helping Farmers, The Local Food Bank, and to donate Agriculture books to Local Daycare Centres.
“It’s the gift that keeps on giving. We couldn’t do what we are doing without the collaboration and camaraderie of the agriculture industry and the community.
“A prime example of this is when Matt Compton of Compton’s Vegetable Farm Market and Berry Patch responded immediately on the morning of the Three Oaks AG Day when he found out plans had fallen through for the students in obtaining a tractor to be showcased at their event. Matt’s generosity of heart came shining through when his tractor showed up and was a big hit with the Three Oaks students!”
Part of what makes the program a success is the endorsement by students. As they gain confidence and develop transferable skills, they encourage their friends to take agriculture courses as well, Marilyn says. “genAG PEI students participate from a strength-based perspective. It is so inspiring to see the students excel in bringing their AG Day vision to reality!”
Marilyn says one of the most rewarding parts of her work is seeing students make the connection between what they learn and what possibilities there may be for them in the industry. “When students develop a better understanding of agriculture, they see so many opportunities in agriculture. It might not be now, but once that seed has been planted, you never know when they are going to make that connection.”
According to estimates by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), we will need to produce 70 percent more food by 2050 to feed the growing world population. With this in mind, it is important for programs like genAG to have a place in the K-12 system, she says.
“We need to have young people interested in agriculture. They need to know and care about these issues to do something about it. What they learn today is essential to our future, so we hope to have genAG in every school at some point.”
“The teachers involved in the genAG program are very dedicated to their student’s learning and well-being as whole. They are so commendable – I can’t say enough good things about them!”
One student’s perspective
Jillian Ferguson was excited to take Agri-science, but the class was no longer offered by the time she started at Kensington Intermediate Senior High School. “Growing up in a small rural community, I had a great appreciation for our neighbouring farm families and the crops they grew, and that was something that I wanted to learn more about.”
Throughout school, she struggled to develop a career plan. “I was interested in science and was considering becoming a veterinarian or physiotherapist, but I wasn’t sure.”
In Grade 12, she enrolled in a physics class, but when the Agri-science class was suddenly offered again, she decided to switch into it, she says. “Taking Agri-science instead was a no-brainer. They had great opportunities to tour different businesses and farms, go on trips, and make connections with students from nearby schools.”
When Jillian’s genAG PEI class took a field trip to Canada’s AgDay in Ottawa, a celebration featuring industry leaders from across the country, her eyes were opened to careers she might have never considered, she says.
“Meeting people from all walks of life who were very passionate about agriculture really made me realize the sense of community within the industry, and that there were opportunities in agriculture and food for students like me.”
She recently graduated from the Environmental Science program at Dalhousie Agriculture Campus in Nova Scotia and works at the PEI Federation of Agriculture as a Program Coordinator for Farm & Food Care PEI.
“The genAG PEI program is a big part of the reason I am where I am today. I love having the opportunity to connect with producers and farmers and share the good news with consumers who are not as familiar with where their food comes from.”
A promising future
The PEI Agriculture Sector Council is a non-profit organization which helps identify and address human resource issues in the agriculture industry. They work to inspire the development of young leaders and entrepreneurs on PEI and offer employability skills to enhance the competitiveness and workforce capacities of the Island’s agriculture and food sector.
“One in eight jobs are in the agriculture industry, from farm labour and technicians to managers,” says Marilyn. “Typically, agriculture pays a higher-than-normal wage and there are plenty of training opportunities available.”
Common seasonal and year-round employment opportunities on PEI include:
- Farm Technician
- Forklift Driver
- Tractor/Combine Operator
- Class 1 & Class 3A Driver
Other year-round jobs include:
- Dairy Relief Milker
- Dairy Herdsman
- Seed Technician
- Vet and Vet Technicians
- Equipment Operator/Mechanic
With agriculture, all jobs should be considered top jobs, Marilyn says. “Food and agriculture are at the heart of our existence and our survival. There is so much diversity and opportunity within the agriculture and agri-food industry.”
She encourages students who want to learn more about these careers to check out the thinkAG website, which has tools and quizzes to find careers based on their abilities and interests.
The AITC-PEI website includes information about scholarships and bursaries for students who enter this field.
“There is something for everyone. Find your passion and you could find a place to connect with agriculture and make a difference for future generations.”
FOR MORE INFORMATION
about genAG PEI, contact Marilyn Balderston at [email protected]
To check the career information offered by Agriculture in the Classroom – PEI, visit www.aitc-pei.ca
For career quizzes and other resources, visit https://thinkag.ca/en-ca
For more information about PEI Agriculture Sector Council, visit www.peiagsc.ca
For more information about PEI’s Agriculture industry, visit www.employmentjourney.com/agriculture