It is a shame, says Julie White, that today’s kids are whizzes with computers and all things video/digital, but most of them know zilch about agriculture.
“I’d go to area schools to do presentations on farming, and for the most part, kids didn’t have the foggiest notion how their food and clothing came to be. I’d ask them questions, and they’d mostly just say, ‘From the store.’”
White, who is Mississippi State University Extension director for Oktibbeha County, Miss., grew up on a Louisiana dairy farm, and she and husband William, who is facilities coordinator for the MSU Leveck Research Station, operate a fifth generation 200 acre commercial cow-calf operation.
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“We both have a strong passion for agriculture, and I just felt there was something that could be done to help kids to learn at least some of the basics of agriculture — and have some fun doing it.”
And thus was born the idea for Farmtastic, an exhibition combining learning with hands-on experiences.
The first event, held in 2012 at the MSU Horse Park facility, featured five different stations, spotlighting various aspects of agriculture. It was sponsored by the MSU Extension Service, the Oktibbeha County Farm Bureau, and other ag-related organizations.
“Kids could see farm animals up close, and they could interact with farmers and various ag experts to learn about Mississippi crops, forestry, and livestock,” White says. “Participation by area schools was excellent, and all the kids seemed to have a great time.”
This year, the event was expanded to seven event stations:
• The Barnyard Bonanza, teaching about farm animals, and featuring a milking demonstration, butter making, and up-close experiences with goats, sheep, horses, pigs, chickens, turkeys, and other farm animals.
• The Wonder Plants, offering lessons in horticulture, vegetable gardens, fruit orchards, the importance of worms and pollinators, and the making of classroom planters.
• The Mighty Crops, highlighting agronomic crops, including cotton, corn, soybeans, peanuts, sweet potatoes, wheat, peanuts, and rice, along with a miniature working cotton gin.
• Farm Machinery, featuring scale models of tractors and other farm equipment.
•The Enchanted Forest, teaching lessons about forestry, including forest products, leaf rubbings, and biofuels produced from trees.
•The Farm Village, including scale models of a co-op, department store, farmer’s market, Extension office, Farm Bureau office, and other ag-related facilities. A scavenger hunt tests students on what they’ve seen.
• The My Plate Theater, which brings all the lessons together with a focus on nutrition and physical fitness.
“We had four days devoted to third graders from a five-county area: Oktibbeha, Webster, Winston, Choctaw, and Noxubee,” White says. “We had more than 1,000 students come through. Then, on Saturday morning, we invited the general public, and we estimate another 300 or so went through the exhibits.
“We’re so grateful to all the Extension, Farm Bureau, ag student, and other volunteers who were so generous with their time and expertise to make this event a success.”
Plans for next year include the addition of two more exhibit areas, she says. One of those will be devoted to aquaculture. And she says, there is potential for the program to be expanded to other areas of the state.
“I wouldn’t take anything for growing up on a farm and having a career that allows me to be a part of agriculture,” White says. “This is where my heart is, and it’s a joy to see kids’ faces light up when they see a cow close up or understand how cotton gets turned into a shirt.
“We in agriculture need to get our message to children at a young age, to make them aware that their food and fiber don’t just magically appear at the store — that at the very beginning there are farmers that make it happen.”