I have been around agriculture my whole life, just as the previous four generations of family were and just as my kids have been their short lives. However, there are many people who know very little about production agriculture, as they could be multiple generations removed from the farm.
Because of this lack of knowledge of how production agriculture operates today, different groups and organizations have stepped up educational efforts to bring knowledge to the general population, specifically children. Recently I attended a local version of the Ag Literacy Festival, an educational field trip for 3rd graders held in several locations across Nebraska every spring.
I attended both as a member of the media and as a parent companion for my son's class. Kyle is a 3rd grader at Arlington Elementary School in Arlington, Neb., about 25 miles northwest of Omaha. He and his 35 classmates attended the festival at the Washington County Fairgrounds in Arlington.
The Ag Literacy Festival is put on by the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL) Extension Service with the help of local financial supporters, such as commodity groups and area businesses. The Arlington festival was organized by Tracy Behnken, UNL Extension educator for Dodge County, and JoAnn Jensen and Steve Landon, UNL Extension assistants for Washington County.
Landon said these types of educational events for children are important. "So many people think their food comes from the grocery store. We want to educate the kids to know their food comes from farms and ranches, not the store."
Third graders from 11 different school districts in a four county radius in east central Nebraska attended the half-day meetings. The school children were split into six, 15-minute sessions focusing on ag technology, beef production, corn/soybean production, corn/soybean products, dairy production and pork production.
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I found the ag technology session especially interesting. This meeting featured a brand new John Deere self-propelled sprayer on display from the local dealership, Platte Valley Equipment in nearby Fremont. A rep from the company, Kelly Johnson, showed the kids some videos of machinery using GPS technology and let the kids climb up and sit in the cab of the sprayer.
He asked the kids how long they thought the boom of the sprayer was and answers ranged from 20 feet to 500 feet. The correct answer was 120 feet. He also asked the kids how much they thought this sprayer would cost. The range of answers was $5,000 to $1 million. The correct answer was $350,000.
I am sure the kids enjoyed petting the pigs and cattle at the other sessions. (Well, with the possible exception of my son who can touch cattle every day if he wants.) But they seemed REALLY excited to climb up the ladder of the sprayer and sit the comfy driver's seat. I am sure some children they had never seen anything like this, let alone sat in one.
After the Ag Literacy Festival was over, I rode on the bus on the less than five-minute ride back to school and sat in the room while teacher, Elizabeth Fedde, and the students discussed what they had seen at the fairgrounds. She also had them write a paragraph and draw a picture of what they learned about agriculture.
Mrs. Fedde, who is a saint for putting up with 17 nine-year olds every single day, also asked the students what was their favorite part of the day. The detail of their answers kind of surprised me. Obviously these kids were paying close attention to the UNL Extension educators.
Here a quick summary of what some of the kids found most interesting:
Caleb Nicola & Charzlie Lambert: GPS was used to control equipment. Charzlie even referred to it as "auto-steering technology". Nice job!
Grant Rump & Morgan Horne: One kernel of corn will produce 400 kernels of corn.
Breann Radke: Cattle products are used in the making marshmallows. This one was especially interesting to the other adults on the trip.
Katie Reed: Sports balls, such as footballs, baseballs, etc., are made from cowhides.
James McBride: Sprayer booms were 120 feet wide.
Hunter Travis: Tasty bacon comes from pigs.
With all the schools attending the Ag Literacy Festival in Arlington over three days, roughly 700 Nebraska 3rd graders learned about agriculture. Multiply this by the number of other locations across Nebraska holding festivals, and literally thousands of youth in the state learned about modern agriculture.
I hope many years from now, when these kids are adult consumers, they will remember just how their food is raised on American farms and ranches. Perhaps some will be even find fulfilling careers in production agriculture.
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