Heather Wing: Devoted to Agricultural Education
For over six years, I have been involved in Ag Awareness Day — an all-day event for approximately 500 third graders, their teachers and chaperones to learn about all aspects of agriculture.
Since 2002, our local agriculture community in Barry County, Michigan has worked together each year to plan and host the event. It is a partnership between our county farm bureau, the area school district, the local FFA chapter, Michigan State University-Extension (MSU-E), the county 4-H program and local farmers. The hands-on field trip provides both students and adults an interactive experience where they can learn about agriculture and food production in Michigan.
With around 25 stations to visit at our county fairgrounds, students experience the wide variety of agriculture across the area. For example, a sheep shearer has shown how they collect the wool from the sheep. Then, someone takes the wool and shows how to spin it. There is also a station on ATV safety and another on dog agility testing. We’ve also had aquaponics (fish farming) and hydroponics (growing plants in sand, gravel or liquid without soil).
Michigan is ranked second in the nation in diversity of crops, second only to California. Because the state is so incredibly diverse, we share only a snapshot of the agriculture in our part of the state. It would be a week-long event if we covered everything!
Of course, there is always a dairy farmer present, usually with a calf, who talks about how they care for their cows. They will often bring props, including a sample of what cows eat, so students can see and touch the feed that gives the cows the nutrients they need to make the milk we enjoy.
Because of the size of the event, we usually begin planning in September, seven months before the event the following May. We work with the local third-grade teachers to make sure Ag Awareness Day fits into their curriculum. Even though May isn’t the ideal time for farmers — most of the time we’re working in the fields planting the crops we will feed our animals — we know it’s a great time for schools to have a fun field trip for their students. Ag Awareness Day is an extremely hands-on event, and it’s a great way to get the kids out of the classroom for an educational field trip.
Each teacher leaves Ag Awareness Day with a goodie bag of resources they can use in their classroom to continue educating their students about agriculture. The United Dairy Industry of Michigan (UDIM) provides a wide variety of dairy resources, including the bags themselves! And we always make sure there is ice cream for dessert.
Ag Awareness Day is an event we look forward to every year. And we know the teachers, chaperones and kids do, too!
Heather Wing and her husband Tom are dairy farmers in Barry County, Michigan. They care for 100 cows and 500 acres of land on their sesquicentennial farm.
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