The Lead

Ag Sect’y Redding: Education, school programs will cultivate the ‘next generation’ of ag workers

By: - August 27, 2021 4:53 pm

Stephon Fitzpatrick, executive director of the Pennsylvania Commission for Agriculture Education Excellence and Agriculture Sec. Russell Redding speak to reporters Fri., Aug. 27, 2021. Capital-Star photo by Cassie Miller.

MECHANICSBURG, Pa. — As they look to secure the next generation of agricultural workers, state officials are banking on school programs that put agriculture front and center for Pennsylvania students. 

Speaking to reporters from Hill Top Academy, a K-12 school operated by the Capital Area Intermediate Unit, in suburban Harrisburg on Friday, state Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding said his agency’s Farm-to-School program is not only providing access to fresh, local produce, but is giving students access to “early agriculture education opportunities,” that include gardening and local produce options at lunch. 

“The dollars we’ve invested in farm to school projects across the commonwealth are a direct investment in both the health and wellness of children and the security of agriculture’s workforce, and therefore food, in the future,” Redding said Friday.

The program, the Agriculture Department said, provides hands-on learning experiences and resources to schools and teachers for students pre-Kindergarten through fifth grade, as directed in the 2019 Pennsylvania Farm Bill.

Funds granted by the department can be used by schools to:

  • Procure and market local agricultural products into school cafeterias;
  • Create and execute agriculture and nutrition curricula at the schools;
  • Incorporate agriculture and nutrition into curricula already present at the schools;
  • Train educators to implement or incorporate agriculture and nutrition curricula into their instruction;
  • Implement experiential education opportunities regarding agriculture. such as farm field trips, service-learning opportunities on farms ( planting, weeding or harvesting), and school gardens.

“Pennsylvania’s farm to school programs provide nearly one million Pennsylvania kids with access [to] fresh, healthy produce and simultaneously spark an interest in agriculture,” Redding said. “Empowering students to know where their food comes from is one of the most powerful tools we can provide to today’s youth.” 

Redding said that more than 200 schools have participated in farm-to-school grant programs over the last year. 

“Schools see the value of connecting to the farms,” Redding said. 

With a $132 billion industry and more than 593,000 jobs at stake, the department has also hired Stephon Fitzpatrick, who holds more than 17 years of experience in the agriculture industry, to serve as executive director of the Pennsylvania Commission for Agriculture Education Excellence.

We can’t ensure a new generation to take on this responsibility without an active, engaged pursuit,” Redding said of Fitzpatrick and the new role. 

Fitzpatrick told reporters Friday that he plans to focus on creating a “seamless relationship” between the state’s agriculture industry and education. 

 “Agriculture is a people business,” Fitzpatrick said. “We must ensure that awareness, financial support, and educational literacy on ag education is available for everyone regardless of zip code, nationality, skin color, sexual identity, or religion.”

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Cassie Miller
Cassie Miller

A native Pennsylvanian, Cassie Miller worked for various publications across the Midstate before joining the team at the Pennsylvania Capital-Star. In her previous roles, she has covered everything from local sports to the financial services industry.