Obviously, seeing college students around the Champaign-Urbana area is not unusual. What IS unusual, however, is seeing them one of the local farms surrounding the University of Illinois (U of I) campus. It is hoped though, by the U of I’s College of Agriculture, Consumer, and Environmental Sciences, that this sight will become more and more common. This is thanks to a new pilot program at the U of I, First Link!
Through First Link, the U of I is anticipating that more students studying farm and food policy will be able to take intensive day-and-a-half tours of local farms so as to experience first-hand what actually goes into owning and/or operating a farm. Thanks to their farmer hosts, the students will understand the practical realities and applications of what they study in the classroom. It is hoped that this experience will help fill a knowledge gap of nonfarm students studying farm and food policy and then later, setting farm and food policy.
Called “First Link” because of its focus on the first link in the supply chain, the first pilot program students visited a grain farm and a beef operation, in addition to a grain elevator, an agriculture supply company, and an implement dealership. While students expressed an appreciation for what they learned, farmers around Champaign-Urbana understand that it is also good for them as well – the more farmers get their stories out to consumers, including future policy makers, the better.