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Ag at school is cool
Reading, writing and 'rithmetic fill most school days in grade school. But at Mercer County Elementary School, spelling bees, book reports and tests moved over for one week to share the classroom with chickens, piglets and lambs.
Teachers welcomed FarmSCool to the classroom for a weeklong celebration of agriculture, complete with classroom activities and Farming on the Playground. On a recent sunny day, local producers brought farm animals to the school's playground, where first-, second- and third-grade students were able to see and touch them, many for the first time.
Linda McClanahan, University of Kentucky agriculture and natural resources extension agent in Mercer County, used an air horn to keep approximately 700 children moving at regular intervals through 10 exhibits of animal and plant agriculture. In between, she talked about the importance of exposing children to farming.
"Our society is becoming more and more removed from agriculture," she said. "We have just over 1 percent of the population growing the food for 99 percent of the population. So, fewer and fewer people understand where their food comes from and why we specifically have certain farming practices."
This is the second year for the event, so a few of the students participated in it last year. That's to their benefit, said Georgiana Bray, coordinator of the school's family resource center.
"They'll remember this, because it's a hands-on, eyes-on experience that they'll have year after year, so it's reiterated and it will stick," she said.
But there were plenty of newcomers to this year's Farming on the Playground and there were plenty of animals to meet-dairy cattle, a beef heifer, goats, sheep, pigs, donkeys, a horse, chickens and rabbits. Kentucky Kate, a life-sized, fiberglass, milkable dairy cow made possible by the Kentucky Dairy Development Council, was on site to give the students a lesson in milking a cow. To some students the whole day was an eye-opening experience.
"We had one child this morning say, ‘What is that?'" Bray said. "It was a bunny rabbit. They had never seen a real, live bunny rabbit before. Living on a farm all your life you think everyone knows what those are, but they don't. So it really gives those kids experiences that they may never have otherwise."
Besides animals, Farming on the Playground also had farm equipment on display, an exhibit where students learned about products made from wheat, corn and soybeans and a station where students could plant their own tomato plants.
"One of the (Extension) Master Gardeners is going to grow these seeds that are getting planted today," McClanahan explained. "Then the students can come to the beef festival (in June), and get their tomato plants, along with a brochure that explains how to take care of tomato plants. So it also helps encourage more access to healthy nutritious food locally. This is a totally free program for them."
Each day of FarmSCool week had a theme. That particular day was Grow Green Monday, when students and teachers were encouraged to wear green to support farmers who take care of the environment.
McClanahan compiled curriculum and educational materials about agriculture for the teachers to use in the classroom, which Bray said was compatible with Kentucky core content.
"Nutrition, science and math are just some of the different aspects that are touched on this week," Bray said.
Doris Hamilton, Mercer County Farm Bureau Federation secretary, was also on hand to help introduce the children to the many faces of agriculture.
"Ag literacy is becoming more and more important as time goes by, as the farming population shrinks and as the children of tomorrow become further removed from the farm," she said.
"It's so important for us who are involved in agriculture to continue to tell our story so children understand where their food comes from and appreciate what farmers do."
FarmSCool was provided through the cooperation of UK Cooperative Extension Service, Mercer County Farm Bureau Federation, FFA chapters and Mercer County schools.
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