They came… they saw … they learned
SIOUX CENTER – The sheep were bleating, the cows were bellering and the sound of excited young children filled the air on the campus of Dordt College in Sioux Center on April 26 at the college’s annual Ag Day.
ISU’s Ag-Citing program, making its second appearance at the college’s Ag Day, is designed to increase awareness and literacy about agriculture. It was offered to fifth-grade students in Sioux, O’Brien, Lyon and Osceola counties.
Younger students were guests for the day, as were preschool children who came to see farm animals and machinery and learn a little bit about the farm.
“I learned that cows have four stomachs, and that when chickens lose their feathers it’s called molting,” said Andrew Van Voorst, a fifth-grader from the Boyden-Hull Middle School.
Mikayla Meyers, a third-grader from Sioux Center Christian School, said she learned to never play in a grain bin, and that, “sheep mothers are very protective of their young.”
Her classmate, Rylee Visser, said she learned that a baby goat is called a “kid,” and that a sprayer is, “a big machine that has a big tank that has something inside of it, and inside there is a (monitor) that tells the farmer if something is wrong.
“I thought it would be fun to come and see all the tractors, but the most fun thing was going up in the sprayer,” she said.
Besides parking lots filled with farm machinery, livestock exhibits included pens of mini Herefords; pigs; sheep, including a ewe and baby lamb; goats; beef cattle; a cow/calf pair; rabbits and chickens.
Other exhibits included demonstrations about entrapment in flowing grain and dust explosions. Children participated in horse trivia games, along with a farm safety trivia spinning wheel game that had children lined up to play.
Inside, there were five classroom learning stations, with the topics “Feeding Nine Billion,” “Global Climate Change,” “Conservation/Water Quality,” “Local Foods/Horticulture” and “New/Beginning Farmer.”
Dordt College’s Ag Department indicated an interest in working with Sioux County’s ISU Extension to organize this event.
“They’ve had the Ag-Citing event at the Clay County Fair in Spencer for quite awhile and it has impacted a lot of students,” said Christian Lloyd, a senior in Dordt College’s ag program, “so we worked to get something like that here last year.”
Lloyd has worked with ISU Extension as an ag and natural resources intern for Sioux, O’Brien, Lyon and Osceola counties. “Last year we had about 30 students participate, and this year, we have 100, so it’s growing.”
Lloyd, along with Kaye Strohbehn, ISU Extension consumer education specialist in Sioux County, have worked since last October to develop curricula and hands-on activities to make the learning day fun for children.
She said Dordt College ag students applied to be leaders for the different learning stations, adding that it was good for them to have the opportunity to teach about agriculture and develop professionally through this activity.
“People involved in agriculture can best explain what they do,” said Lloyd. “It redefines their ability to tell people what agriculture is all about.”
Strohbehn explained the five stations and ISU’s purpose in being part of Ag Day.
She said the feeding 9 billion station taught children that by the year 2050, the world population is expected to increase from 7 billion to another 2 billion people.
“The next generation is going to have to understand how to work with that number in the production of food, clothing, fuel and all of the products that agriculture generates,” she said. “We try to get people to understand where their food comes from, and the challenges that face farmers today.
“With the average age of farmers getting older, high land prices, etc., his station tells students to learn to think outside the box to address these challenges that will be theirs in the future, and that they need to get involved.”
Strohbehn said the local foods station opened students’ eyes to the ways that they can purchase fresh foods locally through Farmer’s Markets, purchasing straight from producers on the farm or even growing their own fruit and vegetables.
“Most of the public is not involved in production agriculture,” Strobehn said, “and we want these students to understand what’s available to them as consumers.”
The conservation station teaches students about the efforts made by farmers to keep farm land and water in good shape to produce as much food as possible, without harming the soil or water.
“”Agriculture has a tremendous opportunity to make positive changes in the environment,” said Strohbehn. “Producers are conscientious in the ways of conservation and use their natural resources to their best advantage.”
The global climate station is a branch off the conservation station, which teaches students that as the world changes, producers need to change with it so they can care for the land in ways that will leave it better for the next generation.
“It shows students that farmers need to produce from the land, and so they need to also care for it,” said Strohbehn.
The beginning farmer station tells students that the average age of the American farmer is increasing, and tells them about the Northwest Iowa Young Farmer Program, which informs those interested in agriculture about the opportunities available to them not only in agriculture, but in other life sciences as well.
“Here, they explore career options available to them,” Strobehn said. “This year we had two members of the Northwest Iowa Young Farmers Program to speak to the students as well.”
Dordt College’s Ag Day is not new to the campus, but the Ag-Citing curriculum is drawing in a growing number of pupils.
“When we first put out the invitation to teachers around the four counties, it was pure excitement,” Strohbehn said of the feedback they were receiving. “This program began as someone’s senior project last year, and has expanded into all of this, in just this year.”
Mike Schouten, adviser to the college Ag Club, said several schools brought their FFA students to participate in a livestock judging contest. In addition to the four counties invited, Plymouth County in Iowa and Nobles County in Minnesota also brought FFA students to the judging contest.
“If everyone came today, there would be about 105 FFA students here participating,” he said. It’s a chance for them to gain experience.
“For many of these students, it’s their first time judging livestock. It’s a good way for them to start the season, and to promote Dordt College and agriculture in Sioux County.
Lloyd added that the need to educate children and adults about agriculture is paramount in 2013, as the population grows and the number of farmers is decreasing.
“We know that the desire (for children to learn) is there, but the doorway is not open to many children to live on (or learn from) a farm,” Strohbehn said. “This day helps them understand what it’s all about.”
The day was sponsored by the college’s Ag Club, with programming and funding from Iowa State University Extension, Iowa Farm Bureau, Iowa Lakes Community College and Northwest Iowa’s Science, Technology, Engineering and Math program.