“What is organic agriculture, and why do my students need to know about it?”
Questions flowed freely at the Wisconsin Association of Agriculture Educators’ annual conference. Held every June in Appleton, Wisconsin, the WAAE conference focuses on giving teachers the opportunity to learn about new topics for their classroom. This year marks the first time that Organic Valley / CROPP Cooperative was in attendance, and for many of the educators, the first time they were able to ask important questions about organic agriculture.
Josh Joseph, a meat pool coordinator with Organic Prairie and CROPP’s representative at the event, recalls his experience talking with many of the attendees as “an effective conference to be able to spend one-on-one time with teachers to answer questions. The prevalent surprise came to teachers after they found out how large Organic Valley and the organic industry is and the growth rate in recent years. Many were also interested in the level of management in an organic system and how modern technology such as robotic milkers are being used within the organic industry.”
So what’s so surprising about organic agriculture?
Organic products make up about 5% of the total food sales in the United States. This number may not seem notable by itself, but it’s important to remember that this 5% translates into over $43 billion dollars in sales for 2015. That $43 billion is more than a 10% increase from 2014, making it the fourth year in a row that the organic industry has seen double digit growth.
Currently produce is king in the organic world, counting for about a third of total organic sales, but other products are catching on. Organic dairy, meat, and even condiments are all picking up steam in their respective markets. This growth has all been driven almost entirely by consumers and farmers since the USDA began regulating the organic label in 2002. Between the seemingly unquenchable consumer demand for organic products and an increasing number of organic product lines, the industry can barely keep up with demand.
With this type of rapid growth, it’s easy to see how the organic industry is creating incredible career opportunities both in the office and on the farm. Companies like Organic Valley are constantly looking for young agriculturalists to help tackle the huge consumer demand. And on average, organic farms are more profitable than conventional operations.
Beyond the Career Opportunities
Even if students will not enter the organic industry as a career, organic food is an important learning topic for any consumer. Learning about the meaning of the organic label and how the USDA regulates organic foods enables students to become educated consumers. And as adults, they will be able to make informed decisions about their food for their own health as well as their future families’ health.
Agriculture educators cover a wide variety of topics in the classroom, and it can be a challenge to decide which topics their curriculum will cover. However, the numerous opportunities organic agriculture presents to students, as well as the ever-increasing impact it has on their lives as consumers, means that organic agriculture deserves a place in the classroom discussion.