The Ground Work series shares the perspectives of U.S. soybean farmers as they observe how the U.S. Soy industry lays the groundwork to grow innovative, reliable and sustainable solutions for people and communities around the world.  

In our high-tech world, science teachers strive to help their students understand how science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM, impact everyday life. But for students who are anything like I was, sometimes it’s tough to make that connection.

When I was a kid, I didn’t plan to be a farmer. I grew up in a small, rural town in the Red River Valley of Minnesota. My father and grandfather are in the construction business, which relies on engineering and math. I understood the role of STEM to that industry enough that I studied construction management and engineering in college.

But when I decided I wanted to do something different and took advantage of the opportunity to become a farmer, I didn’t know anything about agriculture. And I certainly didn’t understand how science, engineering and technology support today’s food production.

I am now a first-generation farmer in eastern North Dakota, about 60 miles, or 95 kilometers, west of Fargo. My business partner and I raise soybeans and corn on about 24,000 acres, or 9,700 hectares, of land. This wouldn’t be possible without modern science and technology, and I’ve learned so much about that from my job.

My three sons, Jackson, Bentley and Easton are learning the importance of science in agriculture because they are growing up with it. For example, they know all our tractors and other farm equipment have computers in them.

But many students don’t have that opportunity.

That’s changing for up to 500,000 middle school and high school students around the country, thanks to Nourish the Future. This national education initiative is developed by science teachers for science teachers, with support from farmers like me through U.S. Soy checkoff investments and similar support from other farmer organizations, like the National Corn Growers Association.

Science teachers test a lesson plan for middle school students to build models of soybean or corn plants to determine similarities and differences.

Nourish the Future provides curriculum and professional development workshops to allow science teachers working with grades 6 through 12 in the U.S. to explore the science of food and fuel in their classrooms. These hands-on lessons connect students to modern agriculture, while tackling real-world issues. For example, science-based resources that meet national standards delve into questions like these:

  • How can we feed an ever-growing global population and establish food security?
  • How can renewable resources open future possibilities in sustainability?
  • How do food producers steward soil and water quality?
  • How does climate affect global food supply?

I connected with nearly 50 science teachers involved in Nourish the Future during one of their multi-day professional development workshops that took place alongside Commodity Classic, a major agricultural trade show held in Houston in late February. They shared how the program impacts their students.

For example, one teacher said many of her students are interested in careers in healthcare. Lessons on DNA in soybeans helped them better understand genetics and make connections between plants and people. Another explained how doing basic research on ag-related topics in plants taught high school students how to gather and value data — and explore programming to support data analysis.

Nourish the Future introduces teachers and their students to real-world applications of science that affect everyone and sparks interest in solving problems to feed the world. Plus, it encourages kids who don’t know much about agriculture to consider getting involved in the industry. While I don’t expect them to end up farming the way I did, farmers like me rely on a host of scientists working on improving every high-tech aspect of our industry, from crop seed and inputs like fertilizer that protect the crop and keep it healthy to the machines that help us care for them in the field. We need leaders to advance the science of our industry while protecting soil and water quality.

U.S. Soy invests in STEM education through Nourish the Future to build awareness of evolving agriculture systems and sustainability and to spark student interest in this high-tech industry that is feeding and fueling the world.

And while many students will pursue careers in other fields, Nourish the Future gives them a better understanding of where their food comes from, and the science behind getting it to them. Agriculture hasn’t been pitchforks and overalls for decades, and this curriculum highlights how food production is keeping pace with our high-tech world.

As a U.S. Soy farmer and former student who didn’t know anything about agriculture, I am glad we are investing in education providing solutions that advance STEM practically in the classroom.