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Defining Agricultural Literacy

Agricultural Literacy Definitions- By Date in Ascending Order

National Research Council (the same group that created the National Science Education Standards) established the Agricultural Education in Secondary Schools Committee to examine the status and forecast the future of agricultural education. The Committee published its findings in a report, Understanding Agriculture: New Directions for Education, and defined agricultural literacy as:

"An agriculturally literate person would understand the food and fiber system and this would include its history and its current economic, social and environmental significance to all Americans" (p.8).

National Research Council. (1988). Understanding Agriculture: New Directions for Education. National Academy Press, 2101 Constitution Avenue, N.W., Washington, DC. Retrieved from

This definition, published by Frick (1990), has been widely cited and guided the development of the Food and Fiber Systems Literacy Standards (Liesing & Igo, 1998).

Agricultural literacy was defined by Frick et al. as a person "possessing knowledge and understanding of the food and fiber system. An individual possessing such knowledge would be able to synthesize, analyze, and communicate basic information about agriculture" (p. 52).

Frick, M. J. (1990). A definition and the concepts of agricultural literacy: A national study. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, Iowa State University, Ames.

Frick, M. J., Kahler, A. A., & Miller, W. W. (1991). A definition and the concepts of agricultural literacy. Journal of Agricultural Education, 32(2), 49-57. Retrieved from:,%20M_Vol32_2_49-57.pdf

Frick also established eleven agricultural subject areas needed to achieve agricultural literacy. The eleven areas were 1) relationship with the environment, 2) agricultural processing, 3) public policies, 4) relationship with natural resources, 5) animal products, 6) societal significance, 7) plant products, 8) economic impact, 9) agriculture marketing, 10) distribution, and 11) global significance. The researcher then recommended that the eleven broad areas should be used in agricultural education curricula reform to increase agricultural literacy in K12, elementary, middle, and high schools.

Frick, M. J. (1993). Developing a national framework for a middle school agricultural education curriculum. Journal of Agricultural Education, 34(2), 77-84. doi: 10.5032/jae.1993.02077 Retrieved from:

The following are suggested updated definitions

The following is suggested as an updated definition (2003): Agricultural literacy entails knowledge and understanding of agriculturally related scientific and technologically-based concepts and processes required for personal decision making, participation in civic and cultural affairs, and economic productivity. At a minimum, if a person were literate about agriculture, food, fiber, and natural resource systems, he or she would be able to a) engage in social conversation, b) evaluate the validity of media, c) identify local, national, and international issues, and d) pose and evaluate arguments based on scientific evidence. Because agriculture is a unique culture, an understanding of beliefs and values inherent in agriculture should also be included in a definition of agricultural literacy so people can become engaged in the system.

Meischen, D. L., & Trexler, C. J. (2003). Rural elementary students' understandings of science and agricultural education benchmarks related to meat and livestock. Journal of Agricultural Education, 44(1), 43-55.

Agricultural literacy revolves around the ability to think critically and make value judgments about the impact of agriculture as an economic and environmental activity and the concurrent societal and political pressures that result from those judgments. An agriculturally literate person should be able to analyze and evaluate “trade-offs” to individuals and to society resulting from agricultural enterprises. The nature of the decisions and value judgments drive the agricultural content. Understanding of agriculture is demonstrated by the ability to enter into discourse about and make decisions in response to choices facing society.

Powell, D., Agnew, D., & Trexler, C. J. (2008) Agricultural Literacy: Clarifying a vision for practical application. Journal of Agricultural Education, 49(1), 85-98. Retrieved form

An agriculturally literate population is able to see beyond emotional pleas and make informed decisions on [agricultural] these issues. A society with an understanding of agriculture and current economic, social, and environmental impacts could lessen current challenges facing agriculture through good decision making along with providing the necessary support (p. 168).

Kovar, K. A., & Henry, A. L. (2013). Two Decades of Agricultural Literacy Research: A Synthesis of the Literature. Journal of Agricultural Education, 54(1), 167-178. Retrieved from

"all of the industries and processes involved in the production and delivery of food, fiber, and fuel that humans need to survive and thrive" (p. 2)

American Farm Bureau Foundation for Education. (2013). Pillars of Agricultural Literacy. Retrieved from

An agriculturally literate person understands and can communicate the source and value of agriculture as it affects our quality of life.

Agricultural Literacy Logic Model. (2013). Retrieved from

Spielmaker, D. M., Pastor, M., & Stewardson, D. M. (2014). A logic model for agricultural literacy programming. Proceedings of the 41st annual meeting of the American Association for Agricultural Education, Snowbird, UT. (Manuscript)

Views on "knowledge vs. understanding" related to agricultural literacy

Trexler, C. J. (2000). A qualitative study of urban and suburban elementary student understandings of pest-related science and agricultural education benchmarks. Journal of Agricultural Education, 41(3), 89-102.

Trexler, C. J., Hess, A. J. (2004). 15 Years of agricultural literacy research: Has the profession only focused on a partial picture of what it means to be literate?.

Hess, A. J., & Trexler, C. J. (2011). A Qualitative Study of Agricultural Literacy in Urban Youth: Understanding for Democratic Participation in Renewing the Agri-Food System. Journal of Agricultural Education, 52(2), 151-162. Retrieved from