Conyers: Harvesting the farm connection

Ian Conyers

Farm-to-table is a popular movement that encourages community partnerships between farms and businesses, and acts as an economic revolving door to create a local, self-sustaining economy. More Michiganians are beginning to take an interest in neighboring farms and agriculture, which happens to be one of the largest driving economic factors in our state — contributing to nearly 923,000 jobs.

Farm-to-School programs provide students with educational opportunities about agriculture, nutrition and land management, and farm visits are important to challenge ignorance and misconceptions about farming. This is why I introduced Senate Bill 99, which would create a model field trip program — geared toward farming and agriculture — to provide children across the state with a ladder of opportunity, and offer a new perspective to students on food, land and the farming lifestyle.

Students will be able to experience hands-on learning from an early age to understand the people and the places that produce our food, and appreciate each other’s vital role in our state’s health and economy. Michigan children are our future innovators and need vibrant firsthand learning experiences.

While this program would apply to schools and farms statewide, we have a unique opportunity in Detroit to educate our children by teaming up with local, urban farming initiatives that are popping up all over the city. A farm visit that explores how food is grown and how animals are raised is an ideal way for city children to understand and connect with where their food comes from. It also provides an opportunity for them to learn about healthy eating and good nutrition — practices that can lead to an increase in good consumer habits and a decrease in obesity.

By learning how a farm works, children experience the natural world in a new way, and make a vital connection between the social, ecological and economic importance of agriculture in their lives — lessons that might never happen if they don’t have the opportunity to venture out and explore beyond their concrete playgrounds.

Farm field trips would also provide students with a connection to their community, a reason to get involved, and a way to bridge the gap between producers and consumers — because no child should have to go through life thinking that their food comes from the grocery store.

We need to create real-life experiences and connections back to the curriculum in our students’ classrooms, and inspire them to become adventurous eaters. We need to foster and develop their curiosity about where food comes from. We need to help them understand the direct consequences of food choices on their health and environment.

The Farm-to-School field trip program is a pathway to success. It will foster a relationship between local students and farmers that will cultivate interest and growth, and eventually, a path to future employment. Our state is beginning to renew its commitment to alternative learning programs and skilled trades. This program is a win-win for our students — and our state.

State Sen. Ian Conyers, D-Detroit, represents Michigan’s 4th Senate District.