At first the voices were timid. “Shake, shake, shake!” Then the first-graders started getting into it, and the voices swelled into a yell.

“Shake, shake, shake!

“SHAKE, SHAKE, SHAKE!”

“Is it done yet?” they asked, peering into the small plastic container that held heavy cream and a marble.

“Can you still feel the marble in there when you shake it?” asked the Pymatuning Valley FFA volunteers. “If you can, you need to keep shaking.”

“SHAKE, SHAKE, SHAKE!!”

Finally, each had made their own tiny vial of butter. Real butter. And learned a little about where their food comes from in the fun process.

The Ashtabula County first-graders — all 1,136 of them that day — swarmed the county fairgrounds in Jefferson, Ohio, for the first countywide Ag Day, coordinated by the Ashtabula County Farm Bureau and county office of OSU Extension. The students moved through 12 stations, learning about all the food and farm things produced right there in Ashtabula County.

It took an army of 150 volunteers to man 48 stops (each station had four identical stops to accommodate all those kids!).

Six-year-old Abigail Butcher, of Geneva, Ohio, wasn’t one of the first-graders learning about agriculture, she was helping teach it! She and the nine-day-old pygmy goat were definitely stars of the day.

There were 4-H’ers and FFA’ers and young adults and part-time farmers and full-time farmers and retired 4-H or farm volunteers. Even 6-year-old Abigail Butcher, of Geneva, took an excused day out of her own classes and joined her grandmother to teach at the sheep and goat station.

The massive effort first started in 2012 when OSU Extension Program Assistant Abbey Averill coordinated an ag education effort for 300 first-graders in the Ashtabula City Schools. (One little student looked at the Jersey calf and asked, “Is that a camel?”)

As with most Extension programs, pre- and post-event surveys were taken to get a good evaluation of the program’s success and weaknesses. She got great evaluations.

You can see more photos from the Ag Day on the Farm and Dairy website.

Teachers loved it, Averill said, because it matched all their state-mandated standards, and both students and teachers loved it because it was interactive and hands-on — a great way to learn something.

Then the phone calls started. “Can you come to our school, too?”

“It was either go big or stick with Ashtabula City Schools,” she said.

Averill said she didn’t see how the volunteer-based program would be able to meet the individual school demands, so she sought and received a grant from the Ohio 4-H Foundation to cover bus transportation costs to bring all the county’s first-graders to the county fairgrounds for an ag education field day. With that cost underwritten, schools were eager to participate.

“It comes down to money,” Averill admitted. “The schools wouldn’t be able to come because of money, if the transportation wasn’t covered.”

Additional sponsors were sought and kicked in money or in-kind donations to cover additional costs. So with the volunteer corps in their bright lime green T-shirts in place early on May 10, the buses started rolling in.

The organized chaos moved the students through the stations — miniature horses, dairy and beef calves, pigs, lambs and goats, poultry, llamas and alpacas, vegetables, fruits, row crops, orchard/vineyard crops, Christmas trees and maple syrup, and others. The first-graders potted a tiny geranium in biodegradable container and colored a card for Mom, for an instant Mother’s Day gift (the plants were grown by the ATECH horticulture students in Jefferson). They made butter and got to milk a life-sized cow. Each class had a class picture taken, and went home with a goodie bag filled with an activity book that mirrored the day’s learning stations.

At Paula Jacobson’s stop in the pig station, the kids wanted to know why the pigs wagged their tails, or why their ears looked like that (notched for identification).

“A lot of them have never seen a pig before,” said Jacobson, who raises pigs in adjacent Lake County. “We’re lucky enough to live on a farm, but unless they go to the county fair, they never see animals.”

She originally just wanted to come and see how the event was organized, in the hopes of bringing the idea back to Lake County. When she learned more about it, she volunteered to help.

At Tina Fowler’s stop in the vegetable station, students could dig potatoes in a galvanized tub filled with dirt (and then the next group would “plant” the potatoes).

Many of the students were surprised to learn the potatoes are underground, and that you could make more things from potatoes than just french fries, said Fowler, a grape grower from Geneva (who confessed she studied up on potatoes and sunflowers the night before for her teaching stint).

“This is an awesome idea!”

Although she’s uncertain whether another grant will be awarded, Averill hopes to be able to continue the program next year, once current sponsors and other businesses or individuals see how important the day’s subject matter is. She’s so confident they’ll be able to get the sponsors, “we already have plans for next year.”

* * *

To learn more, contact Averill at 440-675-0998 or averill.10@cfaes.osu.edu; or the Ashtabula County Farm Bureau, 800-410-4613; nefarmbu@fairpoint.net.

You can see more photos from the Ag Day on the Farm and Dairy website.

Farm and Dairy Editor Susan Crowell has been with the paper since 1985, serving as its editor since 1989. Raised on a farm in Holmes County, she is a graduate of Kent State University.
Susan Crowell
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