Professor Liang Uses USDA Grant to Open Teachers’ Minds to Agricultural Possibilities

By Lydian Bernhardt / 07/28/2023 College of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences, Agribusiness, Applied Economics and Agriscience Education

Kathleen Liang, Ph.D., Kellogg Distinguished Professor of Sustainable Agriculture at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University, works with conference attendees at the Center for Environmental Farming Systems, where she will conduct teacher training as part of her new $500,000 grant to boost agriculture in education.

EAST GREENSBORO, N.C. (July 28, 2023) – North Carolina may be one of the most agriculturally diverse states in the nation, but as rates of agricultural literacy decline among younger generations, teaching middle and high school students where their food comes from – and how to grow more – becomes a vital strategy for combating food insecurity, preventing malnutrition and maintaining the environment.

But who will teach the teachers?

Chyi Lyi “Kathleen” Liang, Ph.D., Kellogg Distinguished Professor of Sustainable Agriculture at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University, is seeking to answer that question with an innovative approach to agricultural education and a new, $500,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to implement it.

“Agriculture is embedded in every subject – the trick is just to know how to bring it out,” said Liang. “We all know food is important. What’s lacking is communication about how to incorporate food and food security concepts into education.

“Instead of developing students into agriculture teachers, I propose to develop teachers, at every level, so that they can see how agriculture has a space in every subject.”

With the grant, part of the USDA’s Agriculture and Food Research Initiative program, Liang will lead a three-year, statewide effort to bring agriculture out of the greenhouse and into a broad spectrum of classrooms by training K-12 teachers of every subject how to find the agricultural opportunities within their existing curriculum.  The project is one of 16 projects targeting ways to increase the food and agriculture educational workforce supported by the National Institute of Food and Agriculture.

Starting this fall, Liang will recruit 30 K-12 teachers from across the state, who teach students from kindergarten to technical program-age, to learn online and in-person strategies for incorporating agricultural concepts into their curriculums.

“Chemistry, biology, math, history,” she said. “They can teach the legacy of agriculture, or about its development. The data science we develop could be part of a math curriculum. Biology gives opportunities for plant study. Even liberal arts – historically, there are many songs and plays that touch on agriculture.”

Under Liang’s plan, the group will gather at the Center for Environmental Farming Systems in Goldsboro, North Carolina to learn, through experiential learning opportunities, how agriculture relates to our daily lives and to the subjects they teach.

“I want to put them to work at the farm and see the kinds of things farmers actually do. Many K-12 teachers may not have encountered farming activities,” she said. “I want to challenge them to think about how these things could become part of their class experience.”

The program will particularly welcome teachers from limited-resource communities of the state who may not otherwise get such opportunities, Liang said, but teachers from urban areas are welcome, too.

“They can teach nutrition, composting, renewable energy ideas using food waste – they are in control of their curriculum and how it integrates,” she said.

With 30 K-12 teachers each year, each teaching 20 to 25 students apiece, Liang estimates that the program will have reached 90 teachers and more than 2,200 students by the end of the grant’s three-year cycle. Teachers will receive a stipend during their time in Goldsboro.

Previous research has shown that an agriculturally literate society is vital if food production is to meet the needs of an anticipated global population projection of nine billion people by 2050, but at the same time, the number of farms in North Carolina has continued to decline,” she said. “Not every student may be inspired to pursue an agricultural field, but I want to be sure that we bring the knowledge back to its roots in the community and the family. Each student should have some sense of how they, and their health, relate to food systems and to agriculture.”

Media Contact Information: llbernhardt@ncat.edu

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