ATLANTA — Georgia aims to encourage more students to seek agriculture jobs by offering new educational courses.

Some of the courses begin as early as kindergarten, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported.

The goal is to better acquaint students with one of the state’s oldest industries. Georgia’s agriculture industry adds about $75 billion to the economy each year and provides jobs for more than 400,000 people, the newspaper reported.

The program will begin with 20 Georgia elementary schools that will roll out the agricultural education courses.

Agricultural education is offered in middle and high schools in metro Atlanta, the newspaper reported. But this new effort makes the first time it is being offered by the state to students in kindergarten through fifth grade.

“In its purest sense, agricultural education is the foundation to a stronger economy,” said Christa Steinkamp, the curriculum and technology director for the Georgia Department of Education’s Agriculture Education division.

“Even if you’re not a farmer, the agriculture umbrella covers so many other opportunities. We want to make sure kids understand that,” Steinkamp said.

The Georgia Legislature approved the agricultural education curriculum for elementary schools during the 2018 legislative session. Teachers across the state are now working with the Georgia Department of Education to finalize lesson plans for the 2019-20 school year.

The lessons will largely be tied into everyday instruction, as teachers seek to increase agriculture literacy through real situations, said Billy Hughes, program manager for Georgia Agriculture Education. Students likely will engage with farm animals and build their own gardens, among other things.

“Kids are more excited about coming to school when they can actively participate in the lessons,” Hughes said.

State Sen. John Wilkinson, who leads the Senate Agriculture Committee and is co-chairman of the education committee, said the lessons will prepare students for careers in agriculture and give young people a greater respect for the food they eat.

“There was a time where the majority or people were involved in farms,” said Wilkinson, R-Toccoa. “As we get farther and farther away from the farm, a lot of our young people think food comes from a grocery store. We thought it would be good for all our students to at least have an idea of where their food comes from and what it takes to produce it. A lot of times, we take our food for granted. It’s really easy to do.”

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