, , , , , , , ,

Screen Shot 2013-03-13 at 1.03.25 AM

Hi Everyone!

Sorry I’ve been sadly absent from Growing Up Julia recently. Things have been a little crazy. What have I been up to? Well I entered the race to be our local State Representative and I won! Things have been full tilt boogie since the day after the election. I am the youngest woman in the Maine Legislature and was recently elected to be the co-chair of our youth caucus. I was also thrilled to be appointed to the Joint Standing Committee on Education and Cultural Affairs. So everything has been a crazy blur but a ton of fun.

I wanted to let you all know about the first bill I will be introducing, which is about food and agriculture!

LD 668 “An Act to Make Agriculture Studies a Part of the Maine Curriculum” would ensure that all Maine students learn about Maine’s proud farming heritage and develop an understanding of where their food comes from and how it gets to their plates. My goal with this bill is to strengthen our students connections with the natural world and the world of farming. I’m going to be adding some language about teaching kids where their food comes from and in turn teaching them healthy eating habits to combat childhood obesity.

The bill summary is this: This bill requires agriculture studies to be taught in elementary and secondary schools in the State for essential instruction and graduation requirements. The bill requires that agriculture studies address the importance of agriculture in the State’s history and development, the connections between the farm and daily life and the economics of agriculture and its importance to the State’s economy. 

You can read the full bill here: http://www.mainelegislature.org/legis/bills/getPDF.asp?paper=HP0460&item=1&snum=126

So why is it crucial to have Agriculture Studies in today’s world? In this day and age our nation is increasingly losing our connection to agriculture. According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, only 1% of our population are farmers. Why is that important? It means that our children are growing up in a world further and further removed from the realities of the farm. This movement away from the land is not just limited to the United States. In the UK one in three children do not know where milk, eggs and bacon come from and three in ten adults born in the 1990s have never visited a farm. In the US so few children can tell you where milk comes from that the USDA has launched several initiatives to inform kids about cows!

Luckily we are a little different here in Maine. We are incredibly fortunate to have a state where agriculture is alive and well. We are one of the few states where the average age of the farmer is going down. People are moving to Maine to take part in our thriving local food movement and small sustainable farms are increasing throughout the state. Despite this we still have many people who have no idea where their food comes from or that potatoes and blueberries are key parts of Maine’s economy. We also have a childhood obesity epidemic nationwide due in part to children not getting quality time outside and having unhealthy eating habits. We need to fix this.

Agriculture Studies will benefit students’ education and their nutrition. A trip to a local farm can be a part of a social studies class and open students’ eyes to the realities and joys of farming. Soil science and how plants get their nutrients can be used in many different science classes. Books like James Herriot’s “All Creatures Great and Small” and Michael Pollan’s “Omnivore’s Dilemma” can be used to fulfill the non-fiction reading requirements of the Common Core. School Gardens can be used in a variety of classes as well. Planting a school garden can help children get outside as part of Physical Education. Creating a business plan for the garden, like Erik Wade did at the Hope Elementary School, can be integrated into math classes. Then once the garden is harvested it can continue to be used as a part of the school day. The harvested vegetables can be used in the school cafeteria to expose kids to new and healthy foods. (Kids get pretty excited about eating something that they planted themselves!) Beans and other vegetables can be used as examples to teach math while adding up and tallying the results of the harvest. Agriculture can be used to reach across content areas and become a tool for teachers rather than becoming a burden. My dream is to see agriculture fully integrated in Maine’s classrooms.

The hope is that this would not place another unfunded mandate on teachers but instead put agriculture studies into state statutes enabling teachers to use agriculture studies in their curriculum. Many teachers have been using school gardens at their schools but have had trouble getting official recognition and support for the work that they do. By placing Agriculture Studies in statute, teachers will now have help from the Department of Education (DOE) with integrating Agriculture into their lessons. My hope is that during the rule making portion of this bill we will be able to align these standards with the Maine Learning Results and Common Core. The DOE is currently looking into how best to do this.

I am trying to drum up a lot of support for this bill. The more folks I can get to come testify in support of the bill the better chance I have of getting it passed. I’m also looking for feedback so I can present the best bill possible. Suggestions and ideas for the bill are gladly accepted! If you can think of anyone or any organization who might be interested in this bill please feel free to forward this to them and have them contact me.

For those who are interested in supporting the bill: We are holding a public hearing on the bill on Thursday, Mar 14 2013 at 1:00PM in the Cross Building, Room 202. You can also submit written testimony in support of the bill (before or after the public hearing) to our committee clerk, Gregory Pierce, at: Gregory.Pierce@legislature.maine.gov