By Julia Recko
If the first phrase that comes to mind when you think of Old MacDonald is “E-I-E-I-O,” then you might also picture Mr. Old Mac – skinny, overalls, straw hat, pitchfork…old — surrounded by his farm full of noisy animals. You’re not alone in crafting this imaginary farm scene. “Old MacDonald” is often the first, and sometimes the only, introduction young readers get to agriculture.
But…(wait for it) it’s an old one. Farming has come a long way since the days of Old MacDonald and his pitchfork. Agriculture is a thriving industry that uses the latest technology (like drones) to feed a growing world while reducing environmental impact.
If you want to learn more about books that depict modern agricultural practices and introduce readers to where their food comes from, why it is important and how you can help, join our free webinar on Aug. 18 featuring several great ag authors including those listed below.
- Lisl H. Detlefsen, author of “Right This Very Minute” and “Time for Cranberries”
- Peggy Thomas, author of “Full of Beans: Henry Ford Grows a Car”
- Nancy Castaldo, author of “The Story of Seeds” and “The Farm that Feeds Us”
- Lisa Amstutz, author of “Applesauce Day”
- Lindsey Metcalf, author of “Farmers United!”
Learn more and register for the webinar here.
Why does this matter?
We all eat. If we are fortunate, we eat three times a day, but because agriculture is so integrated into our everyday lives, it is easy to overlook. When we take a bite of toast in the morning or a enjoy a bowlful of soup on a winter’s afternoon, we often don’t think about some of these critical questions: Where did my breakfast come from? Who grew it? Where did they grow it? Why did it grow that way? And how did it get to me?
Cultivating curiosity and inspiration in readers, however, is definitely important!
Parents, grandparents, educators and librarians have an important role in helping young learners get a glimpse of the unfamiliar outside their classrooms, homes and communities. Farms provide an engaging and educational destination for young learners as they explore the world through books.
Too many times in picture books for young readers (yes, I’m looking at you, Mr. MacDonald), stories and images show an antiquated way of growing food and caring for animals. Someone milking a cow by hand on a stool into a tin can might not be very inspiring for children — what’s more, it’s a picture of the past. You know what is inspiring? Robots. And farmers are using them!
I’d like to invite you to make room on the shelf for books about food and modern farming.
Think about choosing books that show modern agricultural practices and introduce readers to the exciting ways farmers innovate to help agriculture be more sustainable. (Robots, drones and AI, oh my!) You can get them curious about how their food is being grown, and show them that there are careers available to them where they can literally get their hands dirty.
Here is a great place to start: the American Farm Bureau Foundation for Agriculture, an educational nonprofit, has a list of recommended books that accurately depict agriculture. These books range in grade level and topic. The list is searchable.
And what about Old MacDonald? I don’t mean to put him out to pasture. Our old farmer friend can be helpful in introducing young readers to farm animals and all the sounds they make on the farm! But maybe follow up with a book like “Right This Very Minute,” a table-to-farm book about food and farming to show kids what modern farms actually look like.
Julia Recko is Director, Education Outreach, at the American Farm Bureau Foundation for Agriculture.