Paul L. Dunbar Learning Center educator explores STEM applications of beef production and ranching

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Kimberly Robertson, a teacher at Paul L. Dunbar Learning Center, wrote the following essay about her participation in the “On the Farm STEM Experience.”

In very late March, I was among a select group of 19 educators (out of 200 applicants) to participate in the “On the Farm STEM Experience” sponsored by the American Farm Bureau Foundation for Agriculture (AFBFA) in Nashville, Tennessee. As a participant, I received a $2,000 stipend, room and board at the Sheraton Music City Hotel, tour transportation and educational materials. The overall purpose of this experience was to explore STEM applications of beef production and ranching. And what an experience it was!

I have to admit my image and understanding of a beef cattle farmer was very limited to what I had seen on television and I thought the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) connection could be hard to make. By the end of the experience, my image and understanding of the American beef cattle farmer was completely transformed and the importance of the farm to our nation became evident.

From the tours and discussions, I quickly learned that farming takes a lot of smarts. Farmers need to know soil science, microbology, ecology, chemistry, business, mathematics, social science, and engineering. The farmer is perhaps the most underrated person in American society (of course next to teachers). Yet, we all depend on farmers for our food supply.

Americans spend less than any other country on food. According to the statistics released by the U. S. Department of Agriculture, American consumers spend almost 10% of their diposable income on food. As Americans, we enjoy the cheapest, most abundant food supply in the world. We can thank the productive and efficient farmers and ranchers for making our food supply safe, plentiful, and afforable. Because of the use of the latest technologies and effective farming methods, Americans live in the most food secure nation.

Since attending the “On the Farm STEM Experience, I can truly say that I am “Farm Strong.” I was able to tour several beef farms in Tennessee; Jay Head Farm in Clarksville, Elliot Farms in Adams, Spring Hill Research and Education Center in Spring Hill, and the Hatcher Family Dairy in College Grove. STEM concepts were present everywhere we visited. From the use of high-tech machinery for planting crops to the discussions on the latest beef cattle breeding techniques and careers related to beef production. I learned the American beef industry dates back to the 1500s and that the railroads and federal highways revolutionized the industry. One of my biggest take-aways was learning that the beef industry is the single most sustainable, renewable form of agriculture that produces a nutrient-dense source of protein.

My hope is to use the knowledge from my experiences to impact the students in the Dallas Public Schools. I plan on reaching out to local farms in my area in order to expose our urban students to the many facets of agriculture.  I want them to understand where their food comes from and to develop an appreciation for the farm and our farmers. I also want them to see how science, technology, engineering, and mathematics concepts are used to give us a better quality of life by bringing food from the farm to our tables.

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