For those of you who don't know me personally, I am very rarely at a loss for words. I tell people I had to take speech therapy classes in grade school, and those folks did such a good job I haven't stopped talking since then!
One of the rare times I was without words was just a few months ago. My cousin celebrated her 50th birthday and I was talking to another cousin's husband, who has only been in our family for a short amount of time.
He knew we farmed and was asking me how planting was going. Maybe I was not following the conversation very well (there was some adult beverages present), but I quickly realized he had never seen a planter up close working in a field and was asking how the process of planting was accomplished.
I didn't know what to say -- just for a split second. I invited him to come out in the spring next year so he can actually watch a field of corn/soybeans being planted.
Here is a man in his 50s living in the middle of the country with thousands of acres of agricultural land surrounding the Omaha metropolitan area. And he had never once seen crops. This thought blew my mind.
Too bad my cousin's husband doesn't live in North Carolina or he might have had a chance to operate farm machinery. This spring the North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service unveiled a 19-foot trailer called the Agri-Pride Simulator. The custom-made simulator recreates for urban dwellers the experience of harvesting different crops.
Participants step into the simulated cab of a combine and have a seat at the controls. They then select the crop they would like to harvest: corn, cotton, soybeans, wheat, potatoes or peanuts.
As the simulator operates, the participants look out the windshield of the combine cab and learn about everything from the cost of the equipment to the nutritional information of the crop as they ride along and watch a harvest in action.
They also can toggle between screens on the yield monitor.
The idea of this project is to re-connect North Carolina's increasingly urban public with agriculture.
"When I was growing up, my non-farm friends came home with me and worked on the farm, so they had some idea what was going on," Gates County Extension agent Paul Smith said. "They were the future lawmakers. Today, politicians have few if any ties to farming, yet the rules and regulations they make affect farmers."
The simulator project was a joint effort of the North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service, East Coast Equipment, North Carolina Farm Bureau, Northeast Ag Expo and North Carolina State University. Smith spent five years working to make the simulator a reality.
"The Agri-Pride simulator may be the only time a kid or an adult can actually be connected to harvesting, as well as learning about some of the crops grown in North Carolina," Smith said.
The simulator is available at no cost for agricultural field days, schools, fairs and other events. For those of you located in North Carolina, the simulator can be reserved by visiting the Northeast Ag Expo website at www.ncneagexpo.com or call the Perquimans County Extension Office at (252) 426-5428.
Russ Quinn can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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