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Ag Days one way for farmers to explain ag business to kids
 
By RICK A. RICHARDS
Indiana Correspondent

LA PORTE, Ind. — Schools across Indiana are ratcheting up their requirements for students in math and science, even among fourth-graders.

So where were nearly 800 LaPorte County fourth-graders directed to boost their math and science skills last week? They went to the annual Ag Days, hosted by the LaPorte County Row Crop Producers.
For Greg Werner, president of the Row Crop Producers and a farmer from Hanna in southern LaPorte County, Ag Days is a way for students to connect with agriculture.

“It’s important that our youth of LaPorte County understand everyone who eats food is involved in agriculture. The crops grown and livestock raised here in LaPorte County help to feed them and others around the world,” he said.

 He explained the annual Ag Day program, set up with help from LaPorte County extension, is aimed at the estimated 95 percent of fourth-graders who don’t know where their food comes from.
“If you’d ask them, I doubt any of them – very few, at least – would know where their food comes from,” said Werner. “Most would say the grocery store.”

At the end of the day, his hope was that students and their teachers understand much takes place before their food ever shows up on the grocery store shelf.

“We as farmers have to work more with our neighbors to help them understand what we do,” said Werner. “We decided to focus on fourth-graders in this program because they’re very impressionable.”

For teacher Marty Briggs of Crichfield School in La Porte, the goal was to develop a full curriculum of math, science and social studies assignments that can be used in the classroom.

“The youngsters need an awareness of farming,” said Briggs, who added the visit to Ag Days was far more than just an opportunity to get out of the classroom.

Roberta Tennis, a fourth-grade teacher at Kingsford Heights Elementary, has been bringing students to Ag Days for several years. “They do get a lot from this about crops and farmers and where their food comes from,” she said.

Laura Fritzen, a fourth-grade teacher at Kingsbury Elementary, was busily taking notes at each of 12 stops on the two-hour tour around the La Porte National Guard Armory. Each stop focused on a specific aspect of farming – crops, dairy, rabbits, gardening, beef, insects, farm machinery, technology, crop protectants, poultry, water quality and alternative crops.

“I’m coming up with a list of ideas we can use in the classroom for writing, math and science,” said Fritzen. “The children know this isn’t just a fun trip. They know they’re here to learn and that they will be answering questions about this for the next week.”
Tom Cummings, a soybean farmer from Union Mills, showed youngsters a PowerPoint presentation about soybeans and how they’re used. His partner, Ron Herrold, a corn farmer from Westville, did the same with corn.

On a table in front of makeshift benches for the children (wooden planks placed over upturned five-gallon buckets) Cummings and Herrold displayed an array of boxes, cans and bottles in which corn and soybeans are used. Everything from breakfast cereal to soft drinks were on display.

“I think this gives the kids a good idea of where their food comes from, when they can see the package,” said Cummings. “They need to know food doesn’t just come from the grocery store.”
The same approach was taken by Wanatah farmer Jeff Mitzner, who grows specialty crops such as green beans and cucumbers.

He showed off packages of frozen vegetables, cans of green beans and jars of pickles to explain to youngsters about what he grows.
Liz Antos, a fourth-grade teacher at Kingsford Heights Elementary, said Ag Days is a unique experience for the youngsters. “I think this opens their eyes a bit. The Row Crop Producers do a good job of putting this on. What they present hits a lot of the standards set by the state for learning in mathematics and science.”

Farmer Vern Schafer of LaCrosse told where a hamburger at McDonald’s comes from. The beef producer showed the various kinds of feed for cattle at the different stages of their life, and pulled no punches in explaining how the various cuts of meat wind up in the grocery store.

“I tell them that if they eat, they’re involved in agriculture,” said Schafer. “I want to let them know that the food they eat is safe and good for them. I really think they know more than you think they do.

“If they take away just one thing from each station they visit, then the day has been a success for me, and I think for all of the other stations.”

Schafer’s brother, Myron, explained the evolution of farm machinery over the years, using scale model farm toys to show how tractors, combines and other equipment have changed over the years.
Kalli Bontrager, a nursery inspector and insect specialist for the Indiana Department of Natural Resources, said she wanted the children to know many insects are beneficial.

“Especially the pollinators like bees, butterflies, flies and many beetles,” she said. “I love teaching kids about insects. I’ve been doing this event for 14 years and every year it’s fun.”

As youngsters sat and listened to each presentation, they weren’t afraid to ask questions. When Vern Schafer explained the origin of hamburgers, one wide-eyed girl raised her hand and asked, “You mean you kill a cow to get a hamburger?”

Schafer confirmed it, and said there were much more meat and other useful items that come from cattle, too. He grabbed his leather coat and explained while the cow was alive, its coat kept it warm; now, that same hide had been turned into leather and was keeping him warm.

“We don’t raise these animals as pets,” he said. “We raise them as food. It’s how we make our money.”
2/7/2013