Providing Safe, Nutritious Food

Cultivating Knowledge: Start the Conversation Early

by Sara Miller
Little kids often ask big questions. “How much is infinity?” – “Is the tooth fairy real?” – “What happens to my fish when it dies?”
As parents, we want to give honest and informed answers, but sometimes it can be hard to know where to start.
Sara Miller is part of the Bayer Crop Science Communications team and a mom of three, living in St. Louis, MO
As my kids headed back to school last week, I was reflecting back on an opportunity I had late last spring to tackle another important question for the 18 students in my son’s kindergarten classroom: “Where does my food come from?”.
We started our farming discussion using an approach that I — and countless other parents — use to explain complex subjects to children: I told them a story. More specifically, I read “How Did that Get in My Lunchbox: The Story of Food” by Christine Butterworth. The kids learned how farmers plant seeds and nurture them as they grow up to become crops. They also learned how these crops produce the foods we eat every day, like fruits and vegetables, or they become ingredients to make other foods, like grains used for bread. The kids asked questions and shared their own experiences visiting family farms and the St. Louis favorite, Grant’s Farm. We even talked about tractors — a popular topic with kids that age.
As someone who works in agriculture, I know all too well that understanding food and how it’s grown can be complicated. Even as adults, we have a hard time cutting through the jargon in our discussions about food. That’s why it’s important to tailor the conversation for the group we’re chatting with, letting their questions and curiosity lead the way, and to remember that storytelling — whether personal, anecdotal, or an actual story like Butterworth’s — gives people a way to visualize the information we’re sharing and can add value to any conversation.
Education is a significant focus for food and agriculture as well — and it’s never too early to start. Experts have found that early education has a huge impact on children in the areas of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), in particular. While many don’t immediately think of farming when they consider STEM fields, people may be surprised to know that farms today rely on the latest technology and data to inform their decisions every day.
When we understand where our food comes from, we can more deeply appreciate the hard work that goes into growing it. We create a stronger connection with the farmers and people who bring that food to our tables.
My goal that day wasn’t for the kindergarteners to be able to walk their parents through the life cycle of a crop or to explain the thousands of hours that go into developing and testing the seeds we cultivate. My goal was simple and one that I hope will have a lasting significance: I wanted them to know that someone grew their food — and to appreciate that person’s hard work in doing so.

As our kids head back to the classroom this fall, it is also important to understand that learning doesn’t end in the classroom. That’s why we talk about farming often in our home. At dinner, when we chat about our day and what we’re grateful for, we thank the farmers for combining their hard work and knowledge to bring meals to our dinner table, and we remember that not everyone has access to an abundance of food. This conversation may look different in your home, and that’s okay. What’s important is that we’re sharing stories to engage our children around agriculture, helping the next generation learn about our food — and feeding children’s natural curiosity for how our meals get to our plates.

Sara Miller originally published this article on LinkedIn.