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Ag education is focus for elementary event
Indiana Correspondent

GREENFIELD, Ind. — Hancock County 4-H junior leaders have learned to field an array of questions from curious fourth graders at their annual Ag Week education day in Greenfield, Ind.

One lad nearly stumped a leader last week with this hard-hitter: “Do you have to have two sheep to make a lamb?”

“A lot of these kids are from a city setting. I’ve been surprised a little at what they don’t know,” said Jordan Conley, a junior at Greenfield Central High School, who answered the lamb inquiry with a straight face. “But they know how to ask good questions.”

Conley said his second hardest question was “Why do sheep have wool instead of hair?”

He handled both questions with the diplomacy of a veteran. “I told them God made sheep that way,” Conley said, this time allowing himself to smile.

Hancock is out in front of a trend to involve both junior leaders and school children in observance of Ag Week, officially March 19-25. “We try to get the junior leaders involved because it develops their leadership, and the kids can really relate to high school students,” said Sarah Burke, Hancock County extension educator.

All the elementary schools in the county were invited, and five responded with a bus-load of energy. For two days, junior leaders, also from area schools, and plenty of other helping hands turned out to demonstrate the value of agriculture.

The event was co-sponsored by Hancock County Farm Bureau, Purdue University’s extension office in Greenfield, and the Hancock County Soil and Water Conservation District.

“We hope this teaches (the schoolchildren) what we’re doing when we’re driving a big tractor on the road,” said Debi Hill, president of the local Farm Bureau. “We also hope they learn that there is still agriculture in Hancock.”

Hancock, a once rural area, is growing new businesses and houses faster than a chicken can hatch an egg, thanks to its proximity to Indianapolis, a mere 30 minutes west on I-70.

The children rotated to 15-minute stations on soils, supply and demand, water quality, recycling, and bees and honey, which meet state requirements for Indiana history. However, the animals, as usual, stole the show.

After hearing a presentation by junior leaders, the children were invited to pet each animal, and they did, with varying degrees of enthusiasm. The occasional bellow, bleat, or gravelly grunt in the 4-H building was heard from two pigs, some friendly goats, a couple of bewildered sheep, an Angus heifer named “Daphne,” and a pregnant and feisty Holstein called “Pokey.”

Despite all the attention, the animals were remarkably calm and the kids themselves attentive and inquisitive. Pokey liked to hang her large, polka-dotted head over the fence to nuzzle the children, caught offguard.

With the influx of Indy suburbanites, the landscape has changed into an urban outpost, peopled with many more urbanites than farm families. However, the presentations on agriculture did more than cover the basics.

For instance, the kids were surprised to learn that pigs’ insides are the most similar to humans’ insides, and their heart valves are used as human replacements.

Their questions, in turn, were often just as sophisticated.

Caleb Paugh, a nine-year 4-H member and owner of Daphne, recalled that his hardest question of the day was “What part of the cow don’t they use?”

“I had to think about it and decided the answer was the bones and the organs. There’s not much we don’t use,” said Paugh, a student at Pendleton Heights.

His assistant, Jessica Plummer, appreciated the chance to broaden the students’ horizons, maybe even open their eyes to the value of 4-H. The Cathedral High School student has been a 4-H member for 10 years.

“I think every kid should have the chance to be in 4-H. A lot of people think it’s just for showing animals, but there are many different projects,” Plummer said.

Spoken like a true 4-H leader.

This farm news was published in the March 22, 2006 issue of Farm World.