As we bring agriculture advocacy and education to the next generation, there comes the challenge of keeping with the times and changes of the modern world. For example, consider that, according to research, nearly 75 percent of teachers implement some sort of digital gameplay to enhance their lessons.
A couple of agricultural organizations have been watching such trends and jumped on the opportunity, which led them to embrace a seemingly unlikely tool — the popular game Minecraft.
With its sandbox-style gameplay, simplistic design, and household familiarity, Minecraft (which reportedly has over 130 million users monthly) is an oddly good fit for virtually introducing young people to the world of agriculture. In fact, last spring Microsoft showed their support for FFA by offering ag teachers free Minecraft resources to use in their classrooms. You can find a litany of fun interactive lessons on the National FFA Organization’s website that include everything from agritourism to touring an animal cell.
Recently, two new editions were introduced to the agriculture and gaming communities that are sure to catch your attention.
Dairy Farmers of Ontario (DFO) recently developed a version of the game they call Dairycraft, an effort to educate kids about dairy in a fun, interactive way. The project was first launched November of 2020, exclusively downloaded from its own website. However, in March Microsoft allowed the game’s “map” to be directly embedded on the core Minecraft platforms (Minecraft Marketplace and Minecraft: Education Edition).
Since then, DFO has enthusiastically reported that the map was downloaded over 2.2 million times worldwide, making it accessible to educators and anyone with a Minecraft account at no cost.
Specific classroom lessons were approved by Microsoft in April to go under the education edition of the game. These lessons — which are focused on health, science, and technology — include “A Day on the Farm” for first graders, “How Nutrients Affect Your Body” for fourth graders, and a fifth-grade course called “Matter: Changing States.” All these experiences come with a detailed lesson plan PDF for teachers.
Their first-grade lesson exposes students to different jobs on the farm by meeting characters in the game. It also allows students to investigate the structure of barns and other farm buildings and see how different tools and materials come together to accomplish farm tasks. Information about the versatility and nutritional benefits of milk are also introduced to students.
“How Nutrients Affect Your Body” teaches students about the 15 essential nutrients found in dairy and their role in development and functionality. Fifth-graders go a step further as they learn about how science can process dairy into nutritious value-added products and learn about the processing sector through an interactive lab and plant. (They even get to create virtual butter, yogurt, cheese, and ice cream!)
Yet dairy producers aren’t the only ones who have sought to harness this spark in our youth.
In June, John Deere also entered the Minecraft game with its latest version of Farmcraft, made in collaboration with Blockworks. Farmcraft highlights the world of modern farming and shows players how machines, processes, and management all play roles in today’s food production.
“John Deere places a significant focus on youth education as a means to increase the number of students interested in pursuing college degrees and careers in agriculture,” Lauren Willis, Global Manager Brand Licensing, said in a news release. “Our team sees Farmcraft as a fun and unique way to introduce the industry to a whole new generation of young people.”
Players are able to experience planting, growing, and harvesting crops in their own custom tractors — Minecraft style of course. The game currently has four stars out of over 9,000 ratings.
Like Dairycraft, Farmcraft is also available in the Minecraft Marketplace, making it accessible worldwide.
In an age where misinformation is an ongoing battle for agriculture — thanks to, you guessed it, technology and easy digital access — online gameplay is proving to be a surprising alley. Not only is it an educational tool, but it’s also helping introduce ag-based to youngsters who otherwise would be unaware.
These kinds of exciting innovations have me eager to see what will these students, learning today, be bringing to our food industry tomorrow?
Jaclyn Krymowski is a recent graduate of The Ohio State University with a major in animal industries and minor in agriculture communications. She is an enthusiastic “agvocate,” professional freelance writer, and blogs at the-herdbook.com.