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Students reap the rewards of all things ag

The Harlem Valley has a rich agricultural history, still evident in ways large and small throughout the community. Though there are not nearly as many farms today as there once were, people in this region work hard to keep hold of their agricultural roots — an important part of making sure that our youth don’t lose touch with the role of the American farm in our everyday lives.

Last week, March 19 through 23, was Agricultural Literacy Week. School districts throughout our area participated in bringing ag-related reading projects to elementary school students. We heartily endorse such initiatives, and are thankful that they still rank high on educators’ lists of to-dos. 

The goal of Agricultural Literacy Week is to teach an understanding and appreciation of how food and fiber are produced, of what we eat and of how we live, according to the Cornell Cooperative Extension. Along with the cooperative, the New York State Department of Ag & Markets, the state Department of Education and the New York Farm Bureau work in partnership to foster agricultural awareness in children. They do so through Agriculture in the Classroom and the Cornell Cooperative Extension 4-H programs. 

Thousands of books are donated annually to school and classroom libraries focusing on all things ag for Agriculture Literacy Week. Last year, 2,000 books were given to those libraries and read by volunteers to thousands of second-graders.

This year, students were read to from the book, “Before We Eat: From Farm to Table,” by Pat Brisson with illustrations by Mary Azarian. The book gave students an up-close look at how New York state embraces agriculture, touching upon everything from food production and consumption to agricultural careers.

Nearly $5.5 billion of New York’s economy is due to agriculture, based in no small measure on the cultivation and production of products such as milk, apples, grapes, onions and even calves. As the cooperative extension notes, those industries pave the way for other agriculture-related careers: arborists, soil engineers, animal geneticists, butchers, aquaculturists, truck drivers, grocers and more. Then there’s agriculture-based tourism and hospitality. The ripple effect is clear, and the more we teach our young about the wide spectrum of agriculture-related careers the better we’ll all be served in the future.

And, at the center of it all, is the survival of the farm. We’ve seen so many dairy farms around here, especially, close their barn doors. It’s hard for farmers to survive, which makes it hard for those working in the other fields mentioned above to also stay afloat.

We can’t survive without food. Farmers grow our food. Their wellbeing provides for our wellbeing. Teaching our children about the important role they play today — in the midst of the digital era — is crucial. Kudos to all of those who participated in Agricultural Literacy Week. It gives us all plenty of food for thought.