E very summer for the past 25 years we have been given a dose of elixir from the Fountain of Youth. Attending conferences for Texas agriculture teachers and their students each year, we always come away reinvigorated with hope that there is indeed a future for fishing and hunting, and the habitat and ecosystems that sustain our sports.
The same week in mid-July that most of the fishing industry was packing into the already summer-vacation-packed hotels of Orlando to attend the annual ICAST trade show, some of us—well, one of us—made our way to Corpus Christi to attend the Texas FFA Convention. It was worth noting the coincidence of this overlapping schedule for one big reason—for a long time, the fishing and hunting industries have been lamenting the steady decline in participation and the relentless aging—with the inevitable consequences of age—of those who do participate. The solution to the problem is, of course, obvious: recruit new, younger participants. A lot easier said than done.
And yet, here we were, surrounded by thousands of solutions. While half of the outdoor industry was gathering in Florida to promote its new products for next year, possibly wondering who might still be out there to buy what they roll out a few years down the road, we were in a place back here in Texas where such recruitment was not only possible, it was happening.
texas fish & game has been tapping a gold mine of such recruits for a full generation. Since back in the early 1990s, we’ve provided our magazine and its growing digital assets to teachers of the very popular Wildlife and Recreational Management class taught by vocational ag teachers in high schools all over the state. Since this course also allows students to earn their hunter safety certification, the class has been a hit with students from all walks of school life, not just the regular ag and FFA kids.
The course covers a variety of topics, from habitat management, wildlife biology and safety, to hands-on outdoors skills. They now have a wealth of curricular materials to teach with but, gratifyingly, monthly issues of tf&g continue to be a classroom favorite. Teachers discuss the articles and assign students to do reports on them. Teachers use their growing arsenal of high tech equipment, from digital projectors to school issued lap tops and tablets, to present material from our digital issues and from our website. We send them a special newsletter every week with suggested content and ideas for using our material in class.
With such popularity, our classroom subscription program has been very successful. We are used in more than 600 schools and now reach a total of more than 40,000 high school students. But it is expensive. It costs tens of thousands of dollars each year to print and mail the classroom subscription copies of our monthly issues. But in return, we have built lasting relationships with many thousands of young people interested in the outdoors, and many of these kids have gone on the become ag teachers themselves and now teach their classes using tf&g.
We have tried for years to get support for the program from within the outdoor industry. But there seems to be a lot more talk about reaching youth than interest in actually supporting a program that is doing just that. So, we have gone outside our direct industry, partnering with American Homestead, a high end pork processor with operations located in Texas. Thanks to this company’s belief in the power of exposing kids to the positive benefits of the outdoors, we’re able to continue growing the program. Next year we’re aiming to reach nearly 1,000 schools.
We have learned first hand how this program is reaching kids by spending time at these two conferences and meeting and talking to both the students and their teachers. The FFA convention in Corpus attracted more than 12,000 students. More than a thousand teachers came together at the summer’s second gathering, the Vocational Agrigulture Teachers Association of Texas Annual Conference, held this year in Arlington. During that time we had the opportunity to visit with hundreds of students and teachers, and talked with them about how much impact the simple act of providing classroom subscriptions has had, and how much enjoyment it gives these kids.
For a couple of retirement-age outdoors publishers, these gatherings are like an annual pilgrimage to the fountain of youth.
Email Roy and Ardia Neves at [email protected]