August 1, 2007. Report prepared for The Center for Rural Pennsylvania. 8 pages.
NOTE: At the time of publication, the author Jennifer S. James was not yet affiliated with Cal Poly.
In 2005, researchers at Pennsylvania State University surveyed 1,521 Pennsylvanians in 65 counties to determine their knowledge of and perceptions about agriculture in the state. The study looked to: assess the level of agricultural knowledge of Pennsylvanians; ascertain how personal characteristics and frequency of rural visitation related to agricultural knowledge and to the perceptions of citizens about various agricultural issues; explore the relationship of agricultural knowledge to public perceptions of selected agricultural issues; and suggest how information on Pennsylvanians’ knowledge, experiences, and perceptions of agriculture are relevant to policy makers.
The study results showed that, overall, most participants believed they knew very little about the impacts of agriculture on the state, farming production practices, or agriculture and the environment. Their self-rating on matters related to food and nutrition was somewhat higher, but even here a substantial majority believed they were not well-informed. When asked to respond to factual questions dealing with the different knowledge areas, many participants failed to answer correctly, and even those who did select the right answer were seldom certain of their responses. For some questions, respondents who thought their answers were correct often provided the wrong answers. Many of the answers reflected misperceptions about agriculture and its impact on the state.
The survey analysis showed that direct personal contact with farming and visiting rural areas were clearly the most important experiences associated with higher levels of agricultural knowledge. The findings also showed that people who have greater agricultural knowledge differ in their views and actions from those with less understanding of agriculture, and this, coupled with the low levels of knowledge found in the population studied, suggests that it is important that efforts be made to educate the public about the nature and impacts of agriculture.
To educate the public, the researchers recommended maintaining, and possibly expanding, Agriculture in the Classroom programs that provide agricultural education to school children; developing and expanding programs that allow people to visit working farms in the state; intensifying programs to enhance agricultural tourism and rural visitation; and developing a periodical directed to the general population, which features articles on Pennsylvania farming, agritourism, farm facts and historical notes, and agricultural research findings.
Agribusiness | Agricultural and Resource Economics | Business