Whenever we’re driving down the road, I make sure to tell my daughter, “There’s a tractor” and “Look at those cows,” to help her learn a little about Iowa farming and where our food comes from.

It’s important to me, because she’s the first generation of our family who won’t grow up on a farm. I want her to inherit the same hard-working values that I learned from life on the farm.

And perhaps selfishly, I hope to spark her interest in farming so she will one day choose a career path – in agriculture, education or health care - that keeps her close to home in Iowa.

Today, farm and ranch families make up only 2 percent of the U.S. population, yet agriculture benefits all of us each and every day.

To help strengthen our understanding of agriculture, the Iowa Farm Bureau is a foundation partner of the Iowa Agriculture Literacy Foundation (IALF).

Launched in 2014 by the state’s farm, education and business community, IALF aims to increase the knowledge and awareness of agriculture and its global – and local – significance.

“The whole idea is really trying to help students and teachers become aware of the food, fiber and energy system, and ag’s role in it. We want to show how ag is part of your daily life,” says Will Fett, executive director of IALF.

Even in Iowa, where agriculture is the foundation of our economy and many of us live with cornfields bumping up to our backyards, teachers say many of their young students are lacking an understanding of food and farming.

Last year, I met Dr. DeEtta Andersen, a science teacher at Center Point Urbana High School in eastern Iowa and the 2017 winner of the National Excellence in Teaching about Agriculture Award. She created a hands-on classroom project about GMOs, their safety and why farmers choose to plant them.

Andersen told me she decided to teach about the science topic after one of her students wrote a report, using inaccurate and scare-mongering info from the internet, about GMOs.

“I like to bring up ethical issues,” Andersen said. “I feel that is my goal to just prepare them to be informed citizens and know how to access information and have a little bit of science (knowledge).”

Indeed, IALF’s Fett says ag literacy aims to help consumers understand the role of ag in their daily lives - in the choices we make every day at the grocery store, the gas pump or the voting booth. That way, we can make informed decisions on important issues like water quality, farm production and nutrition, he says.

And IALF has made huge strides toward the goal of increasing ag awareness and knowledge in Iowa classrooms. Since IALF’s founding in 2014, the number of Iowa students reached through ag literacy programs has grown 375 percent, according to the IALF.

IALF has partnered with county Farm Bureau leaders to engage more than 371,000 students, more than 8,500 teachers and more than 1,990 volunteers in Iowa in learning about agriculture. Ag literacy efforts reached 41 percent of Iowa K-12 students in 2017.

“This is the most progress, most energy, most excitement we have ever seen in ag literacy,” Fett says.

If you’re a teacher, or a parent, looking for ideas on how to teach young students about agriculture, check out IALF’s website at www.iowaagliteracy.org. You can also follow IALF on Facebook at www.facebook.com/iowaagliteracy/ for fun facts about agriculture and upcoming ag literacy events across the state.

By Teresa Bjork. Teresa is Iowa Farm Bureau's Senior Features Writer.