Ag Literacy

Several years ago that the number of agriculturally-accurate kids books available today was pretty minimal. Now as a mom to three sweet kiddos who love reading books each night, it’s become painfully obvious that the list of books that actually reflect what agriculture life is truly about was incredibly short.

Think about it. So many of today’s mainstream books about farm and ranch life feature a cow who is standing on his back legs and talking to the other barnyard animals. The people are often the secondary characters to the humanized animals. Or worse, the rancher is the “bad guy” in the story, and the animals must learn to thrive despite human intervention.

I hoped to change that, and I wanted to give kids stories about farm and ranch life that celebrated the people in agriculture and highlighted the wonderful ways we care for the land and the livestock.

In 2011, I wrote my first children’s book, “Levi’s Lost Calf,” and since then, I’ve traveled across the country reading the book to thousands of elementary school kids. The story (which is geared for K-2 grades) introduces readers to a young cowboy named, Levi, who rides out one crisp fall morning to bring the cattle home from the pasture. After a head count, Levi is surprised to discover that one calf is missing. Little Red, his favorite heifer calf, is nowhere to be found. Determined to prove to his parents that he is a responsible rancher, Levi rides out with his horse, Pepper, and his trusty dog, Gus, to find Little Red. On his search, readers see an abundance of wildlife who also call the ranch home. The takeaway of the story is ranching provides habitat for not only livestock, but other creatures, too. The book shows young readers the “cowboy way!”

“Levi’s Lost Calf” has been used in several state Ag In The Classroom programs and has also been endorsed by many state Farm Bureaus as an agriculturally-accurate book. Please inquire about wholesale pricing and accompanying lessons plans for “Levi’s Lost Calf.” Email Amanda at amanda.radke@live.com for details.

"Can-Do Cowkids" officially released on March 4, 2019. This farm-themed book (geared for 2-4 grades) was inspired by my three cowkids, Scarlett, Thorne and Croix, who are featured characters in the book. The story takes readers on an adventure around the farm while also introducing fun careers in agriculture.

According to the USDA, between 2015 and 2020, there will be an average of 57,900 annual openings for college graduates with expertise in food, agriculture, renewable natural resources and the environment. Of those jobs, 27% will be in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM); 15% of jobs will be related to sustainable food and biomaterials production; and 12% of the openings will focus on education, communication and governmental services.

Yet, despite these 57,900 available career opportunities in agriculture, there are only 35,400 new U.S. graduates with expertise in these fields of study. The USDA says young people are, “essential to our ability to address the U.S priorities of food security, sustainable energy, and environmental quality in the years to come.”

In my classroom visits, I break down what these opportunities look like and how any kid — whether they grew up on a farm or not — can pursue these exciting and rewarding positions in agriculture. This message is perfect for elementary students and high school kids alike, and we can tailor the lesson to fit the intended audience.