Feed my sheep: Why agriculture classes should be required

Gretchen Lee—Copy Editor

The area surrounding the grounds of Dordt University is mostly neighborhood. Trees fill in spaces between houses, well-maintained grass grows on lawns, and kids walk to and from school on sidewalks next to the campus’ main entrance.

Photo Credit: Dordt University

On the southern side of campus sits 20 acres of prairie. Next to that lies a corn field. A few miles up the road rests the Agriculture Stewardship Center (ASC), which boasts a brand-new commodity barn, greenhouse, and an almost completed monoslope barn that will eventually hold dairy cows. Across the road is a cattle farm. The view from the ASC parking lot holds nothing but corn and soybeans for miles.

Back on campus, students of all majors attend history, English, and theology classes. They take art and communications courses as part of Dordt’s CORE program, which, according to the university website, aims “to equip students to work toward Christ-centered renewal in all aspects of contemporary life” by teaching them to think critically.

There are no required agriculture classes for those who are not agriculture majors.

According to the American Cattleman’s Association, Sioux County has the highest number of cattle in the state (420,000). This means more than 10 percent of the state’s cattle is confined to 769 square miles. Dordt University sits right in the center of this cattle capital. Our agriculture department typically is the fourth largest department on campus, sitting alongside education, business, nursing, and engineering.

Again, agriculture classes are not required for non-agriculture majors.

We live in an era where people are more disconnected than ever from the source of their food. According to the USDA, just over 10 percent of employed Americans are involved in agriculture and a little more than 1 percent are farm workers. It’s nearly impossible to track where your burgers and fries come from as they are shipped across the United States from coast to coast.

My home economics classes in high school didn’t teach me how to do more than cook some bacon and pour a Jell-O mold. I wasn’t taught what a GMO was or what “organic” meant in any of my non-ag classes, at any level of education. If we are not taught this in schools, we are allowing companies like Chipotle and Burger King to exploit our lack of information on “grass-fed” and “hormone-free” products and drive us to pay higher prices for their brand of “quality.”

We are at a point where we, as a nation, desperately need agriculture education.

Photo Credit: Dordt University

I believe this remains true from a Christian perspective as well. Before Jesus taught the 5,000, he fed them. While this action offers several different interpretations, I think it highlights that we have physical needs as well as spiritual ones. 

As a Christian university, I believe this could take a variation of approaches, but one should be teaching students about how their food is grown, transported, and prepared. 

All of this isn’t to say that agriculture is more important than the CORE art, history, English, and communications classes—I believe learning these skills is important, regardless of major or future career path. I also believe Dordt’s goal to create well-rounded students should include agriculture. We are in a unique position to show students agricultural practices from a hands-on perspective, and we should be doing so.

It’s true most majors are required to enroll in some form of a science lab and that agriculture provides an option for that lab. Agriculture is such a different form of science, however, that I believe it should exist a separate requirement. We should not have students choose between more biology and chemistry-driven courses or agriculture. Students need to learn food production practices as well as the reasoning of the scientific method. 

In order to prepare for the increasingly chaotic future, we need to make sure students leave Dordt with the knowledge to face the world. Understanding where food comes from and why certain production practices are used is important. In the classes I have taken, we talk a lot about stewardship and our call to care for the Earth. I believe this includes people, and that educating everyone about food helps us to care for people and creation at the same time.

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