By SUSAN MYKRANTZ
COLUMBUS, Ohio — As society moves further away from the land and the impact agriculture has on its day-to-day existence, people need to find new ways to teach children where their food comes from and how it is produced.
For students in several central Ohio elementary schools, the Micki Zartman Scarlet and Gray Ag Day not only teaches them about agriculture, and their food supply, but the lessons are taught with hands-on fun.
“SGAD benefits the students by providing a unique learning environment,” said Stephanie Verhoff. “It uses hands-on sessions to demonstrate how their traditional class subject areas can all be applied to agriculture.”
This year, topics ranged from entomology, organic agriculture, and plant pathology, to sheep and wool, to meat and pork, to new calves and how a cow’s digestive system works. And students had the opportunity to help develop a new popcorn product, develop an Eco-bot to help clean up an environmental spill and learn about the production of fish and produce through aquaponics.
Caroline Weihl said the Eco-bot Challenge is new to Scarlet and Gray Ag Day and focuses on utilizing science and technology to change the world.
“Students worked with staff from our 4-H program to learn about building and using “in-home” items to create robots that can sustain our environment and economy,” she said.
This project was part of the 2012 National Science Experiment 4-H Eco-bot Challenge, according to Dr. Bob Horton. This is one of several projects Horton has developed to expand the learning experience introduced during SGAD.
Horton said the goal of the project is to teach students teamwork and problem solving skills.
The groups were divided into teams and each student built an Eco-bot using the head of a toothbrush, two watch batteries and the motor from a cell phone. Once the Eco-bots were built the students had to design barriers to keep the bots on control service and clean up a simulated environmental spill.
Horton said the project is geared towards all age groups; the only variable is the complexity of the design which varies by the age of the students, although he admits he tends to favor the designs by middle school students.
“They are the perfect age,” he said.
Horton said middle school students are young enough to value the play aspect of the project, but old enough and skilled enough to come up some very creative solutions to the proposed problem.
“This teaches them about teamwork and problem solving,” he said.
Teamwork and problem solving is also important in food science, according to Angela Cauley. Cauley is the co-founder of
Coalescence, LLC, a Columbus-based company specializing in innovative custom flavor blends and products for the food industry.
Cauley is a graduate of the food science and technology program at The Ohio State University and had worked in the industry, before she and her husband founded Coalescence, LLC. Today, they employ 42 people.
“Cooking is part art and part science,” Cauley said. “Everything you learn you can use in the food science industry. There are a lot of careers that you can do in the food industry, such as chefs, food testers and food scientists.”
She added that food science is important because it can make food more palatable, nutritious and extend its shelf life.
Andrew Odom, a chef with Coalescence added that as the world’s population grows, food science becomes even more important.
“Without food science, there is no way we can meet the needs of the population,” Odom said. “We simply need food science to produce enough food to support the people who live here.”
Emerging topics in ag
Students also learned about new and emerging topics in agriculture such as aquaponics, sustainable fishing and agroforestry.
Aquaponics combines aquaculture and hydroponics, according to Doug and Jeni Blackburn, of Fresh Harvest Farm in Marysville, Ohio.
Using a recirculating water system, Blackburns raise perch and specialty salad greens in a deep-water culture, allowing the roots of the plant to float in the water. They use ground up coconut shells which provides a neutral medium for the plants. The plants clean the water of nitrates and the water flows through the growing bed and back to the fish tank as clean water.
Blackburn said they use less than two percent of the water and 70 to 90 percent of the energy used by conventional aquaculture systems. Another advantage is the fact that the system is housed indoors so they can produce products year round.
“Plants grow two to three times faster in a controlled environment,” Blackburn added. “They put more energy into their tops; because they don’t have to put roots down to go looking for water.”
Blackburn said they selected perch because they are native to Ohio, so they acclimate easily to Ohio winters and they are a good eating fish. They raise the fish to the fingerling stage, at which point they are sold to fish farmers who raise them in ponds until they are big enough to harvest.
“Sustainable fishing is the idea that people will focus on maintaining a fish population into the future with proper fishery practices” said Caroline Weihl. Weihl is a student co-chairman of the planning committee.
Weihl said the session allows students to see how good management will allow the fish to reproduce and maintain a healthy population. Otherwise, those who depend on fishing for their food and livelihood will need to find other sources of food, or resort to piracy or fishing in areas further away from their homes.
Agroforestry focuses on how trees are used in production agriculture, according to Amy Jo Frost. Frost did an eight-week internship in Kenya, where she worked on promoting the importance of agroforestry.
Frost told the students that trees are important in agricultural production, because they not only provide feed for livestock as well as fruits and nuts for humans, but shade and fuel as well. But even more importantly, trees attract water.
“Kenya is very dry and the farmers need water for their crops,” she said. “Having the trees near the fields provides water and nutrients needed to produce better crops.”
And they had the opportunity to help other children both in Ohio and around the world, through Cans for Cows and Kids Feeding Kids.
The Cans for Cows project, sponsored by the College of Food Agriculture and Environmental Science Student Council, collected cans to be recycled and the money was given to Heifer International.
“Kids Feeding Kids is focused on the students’ providing for other students in our society,” said Weihl. “The students prepared food packages to be distributed by the West Ohio Food Bank to families in need. This service helps increase awareness of hunger in our society and shows the students that they can play a part in helping others. This year, they prepared 560 food packages.”
Verhoff said at the end of the day, students leave with a better understanding of agriculture’s role in their daily lives and even possible careers in the agricultural industry.