University students develop agriculture education program

We often hear the complaint that urban kids these days aren’t getting the facts about animal agriculture. Four students from the University of Alberta are doing something about it.

“We’re creating a hands-on learning project for Grade 9 students to give them experiences with animal agriculture, to increase their awareness level and to develop leaders and critical leaders,” said Hilary Baker, a 25-year-old animal science student.

“We’re hoping that this pro-ject will turn out kids who will go home, hear something in the media and say, ‘OK, I went into a barn and saw this and it’s not true.’”

The four team members are in a fourth-year research course in Animal Science and Animal Health in the faculty of agriculture. They refer to their program as an “agriculture immersion experience.”

Participants will be able to visit the poultry, swine and dairy barns on the University of Alberta’s south campus and have a hands-on experience with animal production. They’ll be able to milk cows, see swine housing and collect eggs.

The group hopes to host 10 to 20 urban students from the Edmonton area, depending on funding.

“So far there’s been a lot of interest for bringing whole classes in,” said Baker. “It will depend on the support we get, and volunteers.”

Ideally, the teens will come for a Friday night sleepover on Nov. 8 and stay in residence at Lister Hall, with all of the agricultural immersion activities on Saturday. The classmates are hoping to take the students to Northlands to expose them to both Farmfair and the Canadian Finals Rodeo.

“We have had a lot of interest to take classes on tours, so we could even do tours of south campus at this point,” said student Erinn Backer, 23.

Grade 9 target

The students developed their project after talking with Frank Robinson, their professor and mentor. They decided to target Grade 9 students because this age group can still be influenced, but is old enough to make and develop their own opinions.

“We looked at the programming that was available and in high school, there was a big gap,” said Baker.

The four classmates say there are many misperceptions around agriculture. “We’re just hoping that maybe people will be aware that what they are hearing is not true. And maybe people aren’t forming their own opinions, but they’re regurgitating opinions that they’re hearing on the news,” said Baker.

Another goal is to show young teens that agriculture is an active and viable industry with lots of possibilities for both involvement and employment. “There are extracurricular and post-secondary programs that you can get involved with in agriculture,” Backer said.

The classmates have spoken with 4-H and other industry groups, including Alberta Milk, Alberta Beef Producers and Alberta Agriculture. They are in the process of creating a business plan and a budget, and will ask for funding from Alberta Livestock and Meat Agency and United Farmers of Alberta.

“We’re hoping to involve all aspects of industry and be unbiased towards them as well,” said Theresa Liddell, a 21-year-old student. “We want to talk about every aspect.”

The students have started a Twitter account and an active blog, ( which includes the project overview.

The project is part of the Capstone project, which is designed to fill a knowledge gap in the agriculture industry. The students are hoping that the Institute for Free Range Learning will be able to take over the program after they graduate. They hope the program will be sustainable and carried on by others.

Anyone who is interested in participating in the program or learning more can contact the group at [email protected]

About the author


Alexis Kienlen

Alexis Kienlen lives in Edmonton and has been writing for Alberta Farmer since 2008. Originally from Saskatoon, Alexis is also the author of two collections of poetry, a biography, and a novel called "Mad Cow."



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