|By TIM THORNBERRY
LOUISVILLE, Ky. — While the state is considered rural in many ways, most school-aged children don’t live on farms and many have limited knowledge of how farming works or affects their daily lives.
However, thanks to a program developed by the Center of Science and Industry (COSI) in Columbus, Ohio and administered by the Kentucky Department of Agriculture (KDA), students at Chenoweth Elementary School in Louisville and all across the state are getting an opportunity to learn first-hand where their food comes from and how it is produced.
Agriculture Adventures: Kentucky is an educational program designed to promote awareness of the state’s farming industry to elementary-age students by way of a traveling show complete with all-day experiments and participatory stations where students gain an understanding of how crops are grown and turned into food.
Activities include putting together large animal shaped puzzles that provide information on foods and byproducts that come from the specific animal, seeing how technology has greatly affected farm life through the use of a ceramic cow used first to milk by hand and then by the power of a milking machine, and using cards representing corn crop and money in an effort to learn how to manage a farm.
The program is presented by COSI on Wheels and features characters such as Chef Parmesan and Derby, a mechanical talking horse, that provides many facts about Kentucky agriculture to the audience. The Chef opens the program for the entire school with an assembly in which he introduces everyone to the topic of agriculture via a cooking show where he makes a pizza starting with the key ingredient - soil.
Rayetta Boone is the assistant director of KDA’s Division of Agriculture Education and Farmland Preservation and helps coordinate the program throughout the state.
“This program helps bring to the forefront the fact that our food comes from agriculture and doesn’t magically come from the grocery or the drive-up window,” she said.
Boone first introduced this specific program to the department in January 2004 and was met with great enthusiasm but little money for the program.
“Thanks to the Kentucky Cattlemen’s Assoc., the Kentucky Pork Producers and the West Kentucky Growers’ Co-op for stepping up and providing the seed funds to get the program into the schools,” said Boone. “They are the reason this program is in place.”
Boone also credits the Corn Growers’ Assoc. of Kentucky, the Kentucky Soybean Board and the Kentucky Small Grain Growers’ Assoc. as being operating sponsors for the program.
Ag Adventures recently made a stop at Chenoweth Elementary School in Louisville to the delight of science teacher Darleen Horton.
Horton is a 2004 Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching winner and has implemented an outdoor classroom at Chenoweth to give her “city kids” a start on some of the ideas taught by the Ag Adventures program.
“Misconceptions (about food origins,) by good students, pointed the way for creating and using an outdoor classroom to help students experience science in a very real way,” said Horton.
“Early in my career I discovered that hands-on, inquiry based activities engaged children and brought enthusiasm to my classroom. The outdoor classroom became my dream when I was hired to teach the science lab in 1999. It took a year of planning, and another two years to write grants before the project began.”
Horton’s student were like many others in that they did not know where their food supply originated before the hands-on experiences they encountered in the outdoor classroom.
“I thought food came from a grocery store,” said student Dearice Hobbs. “Until we started growing things in the outdoor classroom, I did not realize different foods came from different places.”
“When we would drive down the road and see fields of corn growing, I thought the corn would be green because the leaves were green, “said student Kennedy Bowen.
“Until I saw seeds germinating and growing in the outdoor classroom, I did not understand how food was actually produced from the soil”, said student, In-Ae Ha.
“I never knew what plants had to go through to become food,” said student Piper Schad.
“Last year we decided to build a Kentucky crop bed,” said Horton. “We did lots of research and discovered plants that were being grown commercially in our state. We planted soybeans, wheat, squash, tomatoes, and pumpkins. It was interesting to see the children’s reactions through each stage of growth and development in our plants.”
Another goal of the program, according to Boone is to plant the seed in the mind of these young people the importance of farmland preservation, a sentiment echoed by state Agriculture Commissioner Richie Farmer.
“Our young people need to learn about why agriculture is important to all of us,” said Farmer. “The people involved with the Agriculture Adventures: Kentucky program have the skills to provide Kentucky’s children with a valuable learning experience.”
While teachers like Darlene Horton keep their students ahead of the curve about nature and the environment, many more will benefit and do the same through Agriculture Adventures: Kentucky as it makes its way across the state.
There are presently 93 programs scheduled in 43 counties for this school year. For more information on COSI, go to www.cosi.org
For details on Agriculture Adventures: Kentucky, go to the KDA website www.kyagr.com and click on Education Resources in the pull-down menu.
Published in the October 26, 2005 issue of Farm World.