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Kids could learn a lot from a school farm

October 27, 2009|By JEFF SEMLER

Forty-one states are bigger than Maryland, but only 18 have a larger population. As a result, the population density of Maryland is 542 people per square mile, the fifth highest of all the states.

Yet, many people don't realize that Maryland is still a highly agricultural state. That's why I feel agriculture literacy is so important. More than 2,000,000 acres - nearly a third of the state's land - is farmed.

The 2007 Census of Agriculture, conducted and published by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, said there are 12,834 farms in Maryland: 636 more than in 2002.

The total market value of agricultural products sold was more than $1.8 billion in 2007, up almost 42 percent since 2002.

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Crops, including nursery and greenhouse, accounted for more than $600,000,000; livestock, including poultry and their products, accounted for more than $1.2 billion. Poultry and eggs alone accounted for sales of more than $900,000,000.

Though agricultural and natural resources, land is essential to Maryland's economy, environment and identity. It is constantly under development pressure to meet the needs for houses and apartments, vacation and retirement homes, stores and businesses, industry, roads and schools, etc.

Last week, I wrote about what the Washington County staff of the University of Maryland Extension is doing to help increase the agricultural knowledge of elementary students. Our "Kids Growing with Grains" is but one program we use to reach that end.

Then you can only imagine my glee when I read an article in the New York Times titled "A Moo-Moo Here and Better Test Scores Later." Then I saw a news story about a school in Baltimore City where school children help grow some of their own food. One can only wonder why such things don't happen here in "farm" country.

Here are a few things the children from Harlem learned on their day on the farm. "Pumpkins have seeds inside them." "Bacon comes from pigs and not from chickens." And my favorite, from Paige, a 6-year old: "Chickens make eggs."

Education needs to be more than about standardized test scores. Practical hands-on, hands-dirty activities are not only meaningful, but educational. While I don't expect many school children to raise all of their own food as adults, imagine the math, science and history that can be taught in a school garden.

So whether it is a field study, as the Harlem Success Academy calls its trips, or a school farm, small as it may be, increasing agriculture awareness is not only good for eating, it is good for learning. I'm hoping this type of thing comes to a school near you soon.

Jeff Semler is an Extension educator, specializing in agriculture and natural resources, for the University of Maryland Extension. He is based in Washington County. He can be reached weekdays by telephone at 301-791-1404, ext. 25, or by e-mail at jsemler@umd.edu.

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