I can still remember writing my fifth grade essay for the Holmes Soil and Water Conservation District contest. I snitched two pages of the coolest, scented tablet paper from my sister Joyce that had purple flowers along each side. THAT will impress the judges of my naturalist leanings, I thought.
I didn’t win. Even worse, one of my best friends, Sonya, won third place (I think — after all, that was a long time ago) and a trophy. I was not happy for her. Still a little bitter.
But the bigger take-home story (other than my shallowness) is the district’s commitment to conservation education shown through the essay contest. And the essay is linked to a farm tour that the district has offered to fifth-graders since 1965. Since 1965!!! That’s a lot of time and energy and volunteers and bratty kids.
It’s also a lot of exposure to natural resources protection, conservation and agriculture. Exposure that some students might not have received elsewhere.
(I still remember the farm we visited that year: Mastead Farms, which was a leader in conservation issues in the county, and is the home farm of Gary Mast, who served recently as USDA deputy undersecretary for natural resources and the environment under former Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns.)
Holmes County is not alone in its emphasis in youth education. Conservation districts, Farm Bureaus, Extension offices and other farm groups nationwide coordinate similar farm tours or events to share agriculture’s story to today’s schoolchildren. I’m sure some days the effort seems thankless, but it’s worth it.
I’ll never forget the little fourth grader one year at Lawrence County (Pa.)’s Ag Encounter, and his enthusiasm: “All ri-i-ight!,” he exclaimed, grabbing his buddy’s sleeve for emphasis. “This is the BEST part!” “This” was a Holstein cow, one of the educational stations where information was presented by local FFA’ers. And the “best part” is that that the youngster was going to be able to pet the cow. Those of us in agriculture take that Kodak moment for granted: It IS cool to work with animals every day!
And I remember his teacher telling me he learned something, too. “I didn’t know farming is the No. 1 industry in Lawrence County. I was really surprised to learn that.”
You can’t pay a slick p.r. firm to give agriculture that kind of exposure.
Even in Noble County, a small, rural, Appalachian county in southeastern Ohio, coordinators are finding ag education to be important, because, by now, many students there are at least two generations removed from any family member involved in agriculture. They’ve coordinated AgSchool Days for 11 years, last year reaching more than 400 students in Noble, as well as neighboring Guernsey county.
This year, organizers are adding a second day — for the public, not just schoolchildren.
Does a group coordinate a student tour in your neck of the woods? If you’re a farmer, why not lend a hand?
(Author’s update: 3:44 p.m., 4/4/11: So the sister whose writing paper I stole for my essay? She just read the post and informed me that she won the essay contest when she was in fifth grade. I don’t think my writing ego can take much more. But that’s OK, because Mom always liked me best.)