I speak with many businesses and organizations in the region regarding their current and future challenges and opportunities. The overwhelming challenge mentioned most often is finding a reliable workforce. Businesses need people to fill the gaps within their organizations. Without people, they cannot grow. Without growth, they struggle to survive.
In 2019 and after more than 25 years of no Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources (AFNR) classes in the district, public schools in the Mankato region developed a public-private partnership that created a new AFNR course for students. Caleb Watson, Mankato Area Public Schools Career Pathways Coordinator, writes, “In 2019, MAPS offered an AFNR course that enrolled 40 students across the district. Since then, our program has grown to include two full-time instructors, a 2,700+ square foot greenhouse, an active FFA program, and over 350 students in 10 course offerings.
Caleb says this success “is directly related to our instructors developing a program/curriculum that meets the interests of our students and the needs of our community.”
Brynn Bohlke has been involved with 4-H and the FFA for a long time and reflects on her experience saying, “I knew that 4-H and the FFA were organizations exclusively for the children of farmers to come together, show animals and show off their hard work. It never occurred to me that there was much more than that. But of course, it wasn’t until I had the opportunity to be part of the agricultural education program, attend events, and interact with the local farming community that my perspective changed dramatically.
Instructors Ethan Dado and Robin Tidd helped Bohlke shift his perspective. “They’ve done an amazing job mentoring and teaching me about the world of agriculture and all it really has to offer,” Bohlke said. “They opened the eyes of many students, myself included, to the possibilities of the industry beyond harvesting crops and raising livestock. They were able to show and really emphasize that FFA is for everyone – and that goes beyond children from agriculture. FFA provides the opportunity to learn and build on things like leadership, creativity, entrepreneurship, careers, and skills that you can use throughout your life.
“When we can relate what we teach to students’ lives, it not only helps them better understand the subject, but helps them understand why it’s important to learn,” Dado said. “It’s our job as teachers to answer the question, ‘why are we learning this.’ their ties to our industry until we connect them to the supply chain Students also learn best by having hands-on learning in addition to lectures and discussions 40-85% of our class time is spent to labs and hands-on learning.It also helps students from all backgrounds (rural, suburban, urban) understand why agriculture and natural resources matter and impact them.
Tidd grew up in the city and recognizes the importance of students being involved in agricultural education. “Taking agriculture classes and being involved in 4-H and FFA exposed me to careers I didn’t know existed,” she said. “I want to show students that you don’t have to live on a farm to be involved in agriculture. Even if students choose not to pursue a career in agriculture, it is important for them to understand where their food and other resources come from.
Tidd and Dado helped create catchy class names like “Animals and Paws” for the introductory animal science class. “We work hard to bond with our students and once we get to know them, their strengths and interests, we let them know about future classes to take…we structure our classes so that every day is different!” Throughout each of the classes, we learn about different topics through discussions, labs, activities, and presentations,” Tidd said.
Attracting and training future talent at the AFNR does not stop at high schools. Dr. Shane Bowyer notes that “most students only think of agricultural careers as being on the farm getting dirty, driving a tractor and milking cows. However, when we start talking about technology and the business side of the industry, they start to see things a little differently.
Bowyer is director of the AgriBusiness and Food Innovation program at Minnesota State University Mankato. He goes on to remind students that “these careers include data analysts, engineers, accountants and more. These are good, well-paying jobs that can be found in agriculture and food, whether in a small town or a big city. Educators should showcase these opportunities through examples, bringing in industry professionals and arranging tours.
Megan Roberts, Executive Director of the Minnesota State Southern Agricultural Center of Excellence, said, “The Minnesota State Southern Agricultural Center of Excellence supports all faculty and students in the Minnesota state system to promote workforce development. work and promotion of careers in agriculture, food and natural resources. Our goals are to inspire students to pursue careers in this field, enhance educational opportunities, and engage with industry to meet workforce needs. SACE organizes summer camps, organizes high school class visits, organizes professional development workshops and more.
Educators and industry leaders are mobilizing to support the workforce of tomorrow. If you would like to join this effort, consider being a mentor, speaking with a class, hosting students for a job shadowing, or inviting a class to visit your institution. These things are important and students, more than ever, are looking for these opportunities to connect.
Whether students want to become a farmer, accountant, chemical applicator, business analyst, computer scientist, welder, machinist, teacher, or business owner, there is a place for them in rural Minnesota.
They say it takes a whole village to raise a child. We could also say that it takes a region to train a workforce.
Talent in the GreenSeam focuses on developing talent and promoting careers in agriculture and food. Garrett Lieffring can be contacted by email at [email protected]