Agriculture-infused event thrills fourth graders

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Farm Forum

“It’s fun.” “I want to take the goat home.” “I didn’t know that.” “I fed the goat.” “Truly awesome.“

That’s how fourth graders experiencing agriculture hands-on Tuesday reacted at this year’s Chamber of Commerce Ag Fair at Prairie Hill Farms, just north of Aberdeen. Around 470 young people from 11 schools circulated through six stations manned by Groton FFA students and Ag Committee volunteers.

Most kids don’t live on farms anymore and so don’t know much about rural life. The goal of this event is to share with students the basics of the ag industry. By listening, looking and sometimes touching, the fourth graders learned about beef cattle, horses, swine, sheep, dairy animals and farm safety.

This was the first year that Susan Fjeldheim came to Ag Fair with the Groton fourth graders.

“It’s great and a fantastic way for the students to learn,” she said. “Growing up, we were yelled at to stay off of grain piles but I never knew why. Learning about the dangers of grain suffocation in this way will certainly stick with the kids.”

Joel Guthmiller, also a teacher from Groton, has accompanied students to the fair for 15 years. “The kids love it. It’s important for them to learn the source of the products they eat and use every day. It’s a great experience and we take that back to the classroom.”

“In class we talk about farming in the 1950s, when 8 of 10 people lived on farms,” he said. “Now it’s about 2 percent of the population. We look at the changes in farming. And being here shows great examples of what is done in FFA, probably encouraging some students to join the group when they are older.”

The dangers of climbing in grain bins was demonstrated by Beth Locken with Wheat Growers as she explained the Technical Rescue Vehicle and the tools housed inside. Her warnings were emphasized by the FFA demonstrations as they showed how quickly a plastic man could be suffocated in a miniature grain bin. The main message shared was “don’t go in a grain bin unless there is a specific reason.”

Samples of grain dust were distributed onto the eager palms of the young people. After feeling this innocuous substance, the students then witnessed the “boom” that resulted when fire meets with dust in a model dust chamber.

FFA student Hailey Hanson explained at her station how the hair, hide, rennet, glands, blood and bones from cows are used in many products. And while most students said they liked steak, few knew where those choice pieces of meat were located on the body of an beef animal.

Teacher Brianne Donat from Lincoln School said her students were excited to come to the fair. “They do learn a lot and look forward to coming every year,” she said. “Many are city kids. It’s great for them to touch and get their hands on animals.”

As FFA advisor, Adam Franken said that this opportunity gives some of his students who never speak up in class a great outlet. “It’s a great way for some of them to interact and tell the young kids why agriculture is important to them,” Franken said. “The students put a lot of work into getting ready for the ag fair. It’s a different experience than competition at our state convention but it’s definitely a good experience.”

FFA student Carly Wheeting asked students what a female lamb is called — it’s a ewe. She asked what a boy sheep that can’t be a dad is called — it’s a wether. She also asked how many had played with a baseball. Then she asked if they knew what was inside the baseball: lamb skin. And the stitching on the ball is wool, the sheep’s outside covering. She noted that one pound of wool can stretch 10 miles.

Another FFA student, Brady Graf, said that, on average, a farmer produces enough food to feed 155 people each year. To put that in perspective, he said one farmer would be needed to feed the number of students at Groton High School for a year.

Ag committee organizer Becky Vogel was pleased with this year’s event.

“It was awesome. The kids were so excited,” she said. “The FFA students and volunteers did a great job of sharing the story of agriculture. It’s a very important way to share a piece of farm life. We couldn’t have asked for a better day. Agriculture is our state’s No. 1 industry. It’s great to be a part of sharing this story.”

The fair was sponsored by the Ag Committee of the Aberdeen Area Chamber of Commerce and the Groton High School FFA. Many of the farm animals, such as the pigs, goats and lambs, were brought to the fair by the FFA students.