Students rally for Del. Shoemaker's agriculture education bill at committee hearing

Del. Haven Shoemaker, R-District 5, sits next to Maryland FFA officers Sabrina Mann, 19, and Delia Chandan, 18, as the group testifies Feb. 14 in support of the lawmaker's bill that would encourage local school boards to implement agriculture education.
Del. Haven Shoemaker, R-District 5, sits next to Maryland FFA officers Sabrina Mann, 19, and Delia Chandan, 18, as the group testifies Feb. 14 in support of the lawmaker's bill that would encourage local school boards to implement agriculture education. (Alex Mann / Carroll County Times)

ANNAPOLIS — The Maryland Farm Bureau, high school students interested in agriculture and state FFA Association officers crammed into the Maryland House of Delegates Ways and Means Committee hearing Thursday to support Del. Haven Shoemaker’s agriculture education bill.

Shoemaker, R-District 5, introduced the bill at the farm bureau’s request and said implementing ag education at more public schools will help perpetuate the industry in the state.


“Getting through elementary and middle school without an agriculture class and a way to further my career in animal science was very hard. I started to lose hope,” Cassie Bell, a junior at Southern High School in Anne Arundel County, told the committee.

“However, when I got to high school and had the opportunity to take my very first agriculture class my freshman year, I knew agriculture was the field I wanted to pursue.”


Enhancing agriculture education in Maryland is the state farm bureau’s top legislative priority in 2019, the bureau submitted in written testimony. “With nearly 90 percent of Maryland citizens being four generations or more removed from agriculture, most just don’t know what they don’t know.”

Agriculture, Bell told the lawmakers, is a part of everything people do every day.

The education, according to Shoemaker’s bill, should be three-pronged: classroom and laboratory instruction, supervised agriculture experience — including work-based learning — and leadership experiences.

Shoemaker introduced the same bill last year and it passed the House unanimously before receiving an unfavorable report in a state Senate committee. This year it’s crossed-filed in the Senate by state Sen. Jason Gallion, R-District 35.

House Bill 225 “encourages” local school boards to implement, in public schools and career and technology centers, an agriculture curriculum that prepares students for careers related to agriculture or to make informed choices about agriculture.

Agriculture education will teach “skills in science, math, technology, communications, leadership, and management through integrated classroom and laboratory instruction, supervised agricultural experiences,” among other learning tools, according to the bill’s fiscal note.

The curriculum allows students interested in agricultural careers to access education focused on the increasingly complex field and other students to understand more about what goes into producing their food.

An ag education is also increasingly compatible with higher education and careers related to STEM, according to the farm bureau’s written testimony.

“(Agriculture is) not just a matter of hitching up a plow to a mule and plowing a field anymore,” Shoemaker said. “It’s an incredible science.”

Taylor Thomas, a 16-year-old junior at Gwynn Park High School, told lawmakers she wants to be a food scientist.

Having grown up in the suburbs of Prince George’s County, Thomas said she couldn’t have arrived at the decision without being exposed to the agricultural education provided at her high school, which follows the Curriculum for Agriculture Science Education program.

About 50 Maryland public high schools — out of more than 280 — offer agricultural science instruction, of which 32 employ CASE, according to the fiscal note. There were 4,700 students enrolled in the various agriculture programs at the state’s public high schools, the fiscal note details.


CASE employs four study pathways: animal science, plant science, agricultural engineering and natural resources, according to the program’s website. Each CASE track begins with an Introduction to Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources course before veering into pathway specifics and ending with an agriculture research and development capstone course.

The remaining 18 public schools that offer ag education offer one of 10 curriculums deemed acceptable by the Maryland State Board of Education, according to the fiscal note.

Becoming a food scientist, which Thomas said she’s interested in because she believes it’s “paramount to our survival,” is just one of many career tracks an agriculture education could prepare students for.

The Maryland Department of Agriculture reports there are an estimated 83,600 jobs in agriculture and other resource-based industries, the policy note details.

Bell, Thomas and others students that testified before the committee Thursday appear to be on track to account for some of those jobs. But they, the farm bureau and Shoemaker hope more Maryland students would get to explore those careers by learning about agriculture in high school.

“Through my experiences in agriculture classes,” Bell said, “I know I want to be a large-animal vet specializing in horses.”

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