OSU bridges the gap between agriculture and educators

A Summer Agriculture Institute participant tours a grass seed warehouse.

Agriculture feeds Oregon's residents and keeps many of them employed. But not everyone — especially the younger generation — knows about this sector's important contribution to the state.

To bridge this knowledge gap, Oregon State University's College of Agricultural Sciences helped create the Summer Ag Institute (SAI) in 1989. SAI is a three-credit, action-packed week-long graduate-level class that educates K-12 teachers with little or no background in agriculture. Program participants receive hands-on instruction and materials to incorporate agriculture into their classroom curriculum. Topics include marketing and applications, food science, land and water usage, natural resources, hydroponics, commercial farming and economics.

SAI provides a working environment for participants to experience current, factual, science-based information about agriculture. OSU scientists and professors, educators, Oregon Department of Agriculture specialists, Extension staff, high school agriculture teachers, producers, processors, managers and owners all take an active role in educating teachers about where their food comes from and how it ends up on the grocery shelf. Participants visit numerous agricultural operations, such as: a dairy and a food processing plant, nursery, hydroponics operation, grass-seed farm and processing operation, mint, Christmas tree, Hazelnut, vegetable and fruit operations; a winery, and a commercial turf facility.

The highlight of the week is the opportunity to experience production agriculture through an overnight stay on a working farm or ranch. The learning experience and warm hospitality helps participants see how farmers live, work, care for, and steward the land that supports all of us.

Surveys have shown that the Summer Ag Institute has positively impacted teachers' perceptions and knowledge of agriculture. As one participant said, "All the tours were so eye-opening. Everything dispelled myths I had held as true for a lifetime."

SAI is the result of a long-term collaboration with the Oregon Farm Bureau Foundation for Education. Through SAI, teachers are given first-hand experiences in the depth and breadth of the agriculture industry and how OSU, their land-grant institution, is linked to making this industry prosperous.