Pupils encounter agriculture

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NEW CASTLE, Pa. – The sandy-haired fourth grader’s eyes widened as he rounded the corner of the commercial exhibit building at the Lawrence County Fairgrounds.
“All ri-i-ight!” he exclaimed, grabbing his buddy’s sleeve for emphasis. “This is the BEST part!”
“This” was a Holstein cow, part of the dairy station of an ag education field trip coordinated Oct. 6-7 by the Lawrence County Cooperative Extension Service board.
And before he left the station, the youngster was going to be able to pet the cow.
Over at the swine station, the students looked at a poster that showed where bacon and ham come from on a hog, then they turned their attention to the live pigs that Mohawk FFA’ers paraded close to the fence.
“Here, big pig.” “Let’s go, piggy.”
“They all want to touch the pigs,” observed Mohawk vo-ag teacher Cliff Wallace.
Countywide event. Nearly 1,100 fourth grade students from around the county stormed the fairgrounds during the two-day Ag Encounter.
They listened, tasted, petted, touched and learned.
Classrooms from schools in Mohawk, Wilmington, Ellwood City, New Castle, Laurel, Shenango and Union school districts participated this year, the first time the field trip has been offered to all county districts.
Growing. The extension board started the field trip in 2001, initially focusing on the county’s most urban district, New Castle.
Extension Director Janice Alberico pitched the idea to school administrators, emphasizing that agricultural science matched the new state’s science standards. School officials liked what they heard.
With a one-year grant from the Pa. Department of Agriculture, the extension staff put together packets of curriculum materials, presented a pre-field trip assembly and followed up with the students after the event.
Seventh graders from the Laurel district also participated the first two years.
This year, when Alberico explained the field trip concept to a broader audience of superintendents at a countywide meeting last spring, the extension office was fielding calls of interest before she even got back to the office.
Students move to 12 stations during the day for 15-minute mini-lessons. Farmers, master gardeners, natural resources and extension professionals and FFA students all volunteer to be teachers.
Receptive audience. Doug Englehart, a fourth grade teacher at George Washington Intermediate School in New Castle, has been bringing his class to the field trip all four years. He’s worked it into writing assignments as well as math and science exercises.
“For these children, coming from New Castle, seeing the farm animals and being able to touch them is important,” Englehart said.
“If we didn’t do it, I’d be disappointed. They would never see this.”
And the teacher has been the student, too. “I didn’t know farming is the No. 1 industry in Lawrence County,” he confessed. “I was really surprised to learn that.”
Battling ignorance. Extension board member and dairyman Richard Kind has quietly pushed the event since its inception.
“We were just extremely frustrated at the media’s portrayal of agriculture,” Kind said. “We thought if we could just start with a younger age, we could show them where their food comes from.”
“They all just think it comes from the store and it doesn’t,” added Eric Lawrence, one of the young volunteer presenters. “They’re learnin’ something out here.”

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