"Kids don't necessarily have to come from a farm to be involved in agriculture," Melissa Keyes Nelson, Agricultural Education Specialist with Siouxland Agriculture in the Classroom said.
"The average person is two to three generations removed from the farm, so kids don't have grandparents or even great-grandparents who lived on farms," Nelson said. "These kids often have no idea what farmers are doing and they are going to be the same people who will grow up to vote for policies, buy farmers' products and influence agriculture."
Nelson graduated from the University of Nebraska–Lincoln with a Bachelors of Science degree in Agricultural Journalism, now the Agricultural and Environmental Sciences Communication program. Siouxland Agriculture in the Classroom is a non-profit organization located in rural Iowa near Moville. It's mission is to decrease the gap between producers and consumers by educating schoolchildren about agriculture by connecting them with producers.
Nelson presents in classrooms, provides hands-on curriculum for teachers and makes connections for Siouxland's programs like Farm Chat and Adopt a Farmer Pen Pal Program.
Farm Chat creates a virtual field trip for students by bringing farmers to the classroom via mobile devices like tablets and cell phones. Students can listen, see and experience a farm with Farm Chat. The Adopt a Farmer Pen Pal Program connects students with producers via letters, emails, photos,videos and samples of agricultural products sent to the classroom.
"Kids get to see the beauty of American agriculture, even if it is just for a half hour out of their day," Nelson said. "I hope that gets them thinking about a career in agriculture."
Nelson also does the marketing and promotion for Siouxland Agriculture in the Classroom through television, radio and web.
"This is my dream job," Nelson said. "This is exactly what I wanted to do when I got out of school. I get to teach kids something they didn't know about agriculture and they get to go home and tell their parents and siblings what they learned."
The skills Nelson learned during her time with ALEC are skills she uses today in her career.
"I do social media, news releases, radio, and television, which are all things I got to learn at UNL," Nelson said. "The communications and writing classes I took have been a huge help."
Nelson was involved in the Nebraska Agricultural Youth Council, National Agrimarketing Association, CASNR Advisory Board, Husker Food Connection, and wrote for the Daily Nebraskan when she was a student at UNL. Nelson suggested in a Daily Nebraskan article that all UNL students should be required to take a class about agriculture in order to graduate.
"When you get to college, it's a time to step out of your box and learn new things," Nelson said. "Agriculture is way out of some people's boxes and I don't think anyone would regret what they learned if they took a class in agriculture."