It was a brisk morning as we readied the farm. We swept the barn, made sure all the water buckets were full and cleaned up a couple of cob webs in the corners in preparation for a visit from a Pickerington fourth grade class to come visit the farm in November.
While not exactly from a big city, the group of students and their teacher had little to no experience with any type of agriculture, other than occasionally driving by the few scattered corn and soybean fields tucked in between houses and strip malls in the area. The class was selected as one of the statewide winners in the Ag is Cool program at the Ohio State Fair. The program has several components, all of which seek to infuse a bit of agricultural knowledge into Ohio’s students.
The Agriculture is Cool program was inspired by the initiative of Gov. John Kasich in 2011. The award-winning program includes several interactive education stations throughout the Ohio State Fair where students have the opportunity to learn about the many ways Ohio’s largest industry impacts their everyday lives. The program also offers four $500 scholarships to top participants. Participating teachers get the chance to win a field trip to a farm for their class. The program is coordinated by the Ohio Department of Agriculture and supported by the Ohio Farm Bureau and Ohio’s livestock and poultry organizations.
For the Sycamore Elementary, our farm (or rather my in-law’s farm just down the road) was a short 25-minute bus trip. Though the temperatures were fairly low, the spirits were high for the students who toured the farm and participated in activities for about 2.5 hours. By the end, my fingers were getting numb and I was ready for some hot cocoa, but I never heard one complaint from a student about being cold. They eagerly petted lambs, listened to a presentation from Roger High with the Ohio Sheep Improvement Association about pasture and forages, and were fascinated by the large Horned Dorset rams (that inspired some interesting questions about anatomy). They learned about wool, egg and meat production, dairy products, livestock byproducts and ate their packed lunches on a hay wagon parked in the green grass beneath a bright blue November sky. They learned about baling hay, long hours, hard labor and the massive effort it takes for farms to produce food for them to eat every day.
Even after being out in the cold for hours, they still shuffled their feet a bit as they went to board the bus. As the bus pulled out of the driveway and headed back to town, I could not help but feel lucky to have grown up involved in agriculture, and to be able to provide a similar experience for my children. Children love to be out on a farm.
And while those young students will probably not remember the finer points of forage production or a cow’s nutrient needs, they will not soon forget the connection they now have with our small farm and the big industry of agriculture. I am also pretty sure that certain components of ram anatomy will be a discussion topic for quite some time.