Food and farming education has been one of the important policies of the Council of Agriculture (COA). The “Food and Farming Education Promotion Program” was started in 2017 among schools of all levels, public welfare associations, corporates, and farmers’ organizations, so that these institutions develop food and farming education programs based on their local customs and conditions for a prosperous achievement across the island. Prior to this, there were already a number of private institutions contributing their effort to the food and farming education in diverse programs. Some may have encountered bottlenecks in promotion, while some are still waiting for more opportunities of promotion and transformation. In which direction should we continue to consider this and seek breakthroughs?
II. Suggestions on the Transformation and Innovation of Food and Farming Education
Compared with the initial stage of the promotion of food and farming education, many organizations have developed a fairly mature operation mode and strategies of larger-scales, deeper insight, and higher quality. Some organizations may still stick with the same mode of operation, or feel that it is a hard work and have no ideas on breakthroughs and innovations. Here are some suggestions for your reference. You are welcome to think about your program and consider the possibilities of further development.
1. Comprehensive Planning
The “Food and Farming Education Promotion Program” of COA provides a very good set of guidelines. Taking the 2021 brochure as an example, it provides a "Conceptual Framework for Food and Farming Education." There are three major aspects and six categories and 25 learning units. The three aspects are "Agricultural Production and Environment", "Diet Health and Consumption", and "Diet Life and Culture." Institutions making proposals can refer to these and consider if there are other programs that can be included.
In planning your food and farming education program, the first step is to choose one agricultural product as the theme, and refer to the conceptual framework of food and farming education for the syllabus design. The teaching activities are interlocking. If the theme is sweet potato, the content may involve its growing, the friendly environment, its nutrition, the local food culture, and practical cooking practices. Learners then have a comprehensive understanding of the relevant knowledge of the sweet potato.
Secondly, choice of the theme can be made with food of the season and with local characteristics. Local elements can be incorporated by introducing the production, the dietary culture, and even by field trips to the crop fields and processing plants, for observation and hands-on experience. The local elements and direct personal immersion would make it easier for learners to understand, and also promote local consumption.
The third is the actual cooking practice. The recommendation is for learners to prepare dishes from the original food itself. This is often where the gap lies. With limited teaching hours available, the practice is usually with semi-finished products and neglects the true purpose of the cooking practice, which is for learners to learn how to choose and prepare the food as well as cook it. Even with limited time, teachers can use graphics cards, videos, and demonstration to cover the steps that are not practiced. Any learners, adults or children, need to have practical experience to get impressed with unfamiliar ingredients and cooking methods.
If your current teaching plan already covers the three points above, then you can consider more advanced content, such as scientific agriculture, smart agriculture, global food issues, diverse diet cultures, etc. This will help learners know the trends of modern agriculture and global issues, and by providing information with global thinking, enhance learners' critical thinking and then influence the attitudes of food consumption and dietary habits.
In addition to comprehensive planning as mentioned above, the following are suggestions on the implementation by institutions in the private sector based on their various conditions and resources available.
(1) Elementary and Secondary Schools
Elementary and secondary schools can plan food and farming courses in themes, such as in school-based courses, student clubs, or general courses for a certain grade or the whole school. This has the advantage that students can have more time for a comprehensive learning experience. It certainly may require more coordination, resources, and time for joint preparation. Another method is to incorporate the theme of food and farming education into the courses of various domains, which is oriented toward the competence indicators of the learning domain. For example, model making of agricultural products can be practiced in art classes, and idioms related to agricultural products can be taught in language classes.
(2) Colleges and universities
Colleges and universities have relatively rich resources, so they can integrate and connect internal and external resources to promote food and farming education. The target may be college students, community residents, and even elementary school students or senior citizens. Digital and multimedia teaching materials can be developed as a novel and motivating approach of promotion. College students are the main consumer group in the future, but they generally lack knowledge in food and farming education. As many college students are fast food junkies, a possible approach to food and farming education can be encouraging them to share cooking and dining to get involved in related discussion.
(3) Farmers' associations, communities, and agricultural enterprises
The promotion of food and farming education in farmers' associations, communities, and agricultural enterprises has a common feature. That is, they all have consumers as the main target of promotion. Consumers, however, fall into different categories, so the target setting must be very clear. For example, is the goal set on promoting local products to consumers from other places, on reactivating local industries to increase employment opportunities, or on enhancing services to local residents? Maybe the goals are three-folded, or maybe there is only one of them. The important thing is to determine the goals and the targets as the strategies taken vary with the goals and targets. To achieve the aforementioned goals, local industries should be integrated in the promotion of food and farming education so as to achieve the effect of linkage, diffusion and shared benefits.
Another point is to pursue communication in forms of knowledge and narration. Schools may develop a series of food and farming education courses. Farmers' associations, communities, and agricultural enterprises usually arrange one-day or one-shot activities. To achieve the goals in the short time consumers would stay, experience sharing in forms of knowledge and narration can be helpful. It helps consumers leave good memories of the experience and also identity with the land and the agricultural products.
3. Local networks
Sustainable development and operation of food and farming education is difficult without local networks. The development of food and farming education in various regions must display special local characteristics and involve the joint efforts of local institutions. Effective connection and collaboration of local organizations is essential to the successful promotion of local food and farming education.
In terms of local resources, the people and institutions that can be involved include schools, community development associations, local farmers, agricultural production and marketing groups (APMGs), farmers’ associations, restaurants, traditional markets, supermarkets, and nutritionists in health clinics. School teachers are capable of preparing lesson plans, turning knowledge into the language of teaching suitable for students of different age groups. The community development associations have the venues and personnel to support the teaching activities. Local farmers, APMGs, and farmers’ associations can be good sources of teaching staff on the production and processing of agricultural products. Farms and processing plants in the supply chain can provide opportunities of observation and hands-on experience. Restaurants, traditional markets and supermarkets at the end of the agricultural product supply chain are the places for most practical close-to-life experience. If the whole process from the agricultural production to the consumption is linked and integrated, coupled with the understanding of nutrition knowledge, the promotion of food and farming education will be of a much broader range.
In terms of professional resources, the related institutions can invite experts from the agricultural research and extension stations of COA as well as college faculty members to serve as guest consultants and lecturers. The compilation of food and farming education teaching materials should be based on official information from COA or the Ministry of Health and Welfare to ensure the validity. Cooperation can be sought with cultural studios so as to incorporate local agriculture and food culture in the food and farming education.
4. Prospective Benefits
Based on the experience and insight accumulated throughout the years of food and farming education, the prospective benefits can be further enhanced. Here are a few suggestions.
(1) Promotion strategies
The promotion strategies should take into account the systematic teaching and the suitability of the teaching content to the target audience. For example, learners can be taught the whole process of production, storage and marketing, in which quite a lot of topics can be discussed in different depths for different age groups, grades, and majors. Therefore, the program may start with the theme of a single crop in the process from production to consumption for learners of a single age group. Or reference can be made to the idea of food span proposed by Johns Hopkins University Center for a Livable Future (https://www.foodspan.org/lesson-plans/) to plan different food and farming education themes for learners of different age groups in a sequential manner. This can then be expanded to other themes and other learner groups to form a systematic teaching program. Sustainability of the programs can be pursued by forming teachers’ community or maintaining teams of trainers. Independent continuous teaching and continuous events are the key to the sustainable promotion of food and farming education.
Most of the publicity channels that come to the mind of the program organizers are the Facebook accounts, LINE, official website, etc. As a matter of fact, there may be more publicity channels. The teaching and the results can be revealed through press releases. The teaching plans and materials developed can be shared with teachers of other schools through the education administration system. Workshops and exhibitions can be held to share the information with relevant local institutions invited to promote mutual understanding and foster opportunities for future cooperation.
(3) Teaching materials and teaching aids
Program organizers are suggested to develop their own teaching materials and teaching plans. Many hands-on activities are held outdoors, where visual charts and diagrams are necessary in addition to verbal explanations. For example, learners can clearly understand the process of crop growth or the steps of operation. Other teaching aids like videos, picture books, leaflets, flash cards, manuals, board games, digital technology, and static display can also be used to create a scenario to assist teaching. Finally, the courses or activities which use these materials can be organized into a general teaching plan table, which contains relevant background knowledge, operation manuals, and suggested teaching methods. This can be kept for teacher training in future programs of food and farming education. This is particularly helpful for the continued promotion and optimization of the programs if the original planners of the materials are no longer at service in the institution.
Food and farming education relies on the active devotion of the teachers and the program organizers. Of equal importance are the internal integration and support and the external resources and cooperation. Continuous exchange of resources and experience with other institutions is also necessary so that the promotion of food and farming education is not just a mere slogan. The suggestions made in this article are proposed with the hope that promotion strategies that are innovated, effective, and more goal-oriented can be developed and utilized.