U program introduces children to agriculture

Mark Baumgarten

Ten-year-old Dan Wanous had never seen a cow’s stomach. But after spending a day of agricultural exploration on the St. Paul campus, Wanous was able to describe, in detail, all four stomachs of the cow.
“I never knew cows had such big stomachs,” the fourth-grade student from Pilgrim Lane Elementary in Robbinsdale said after peering into one of the four compartments of an authentic cow stomach on display at the Livestock Pavilion.
Wanous was one of more than 900 students who have ventured to the St. Paul campus to take part in the University’s “Agriculture Awareness Days.” The event began on Wednesday and runs through today.
The event, hosted by graduate students from the College of Agricultural, Food, and Environmental Sciences’ animal science and agronomy departments, exposed second- through seventh-grade students to Minnesota agriculture.
“This is really an outreach to introduce the school kids to farming,” said Ashley Haine, graduate student in the animal science department and event coordinator. “We are especially focusing on the environmental and animal care aspects of farming.”
This year, the event reached out to nine schools. But short visits limited some schools from attending.
“No one wants to drive very far,” Haine said. “The event is only a little over an hour long for each school group, and it really isn’t worth it for lots of schools.”
The resulting slew of students is largely composed of children from the suburbs. However, Pilgrim Lane Elementary teacher Terri Moore thinks these students benefit the most from this experience.
“These kids know all about the suburbs,” Moore said. “But they don’t know anything about the rural aspect of Minnesota life. I think it helps them to see all the aspects of what is out there.”
Throughout the three-day event, graduate students lead groups of 10 to 20 students through a winding path of seven exhibits featuring various crops and livestock.
“I didn’t think there would be this many animals,” fourth-grade Pilgrim Lane Elementary student Kevin Drakulic said. “I think it’s cool that they let us hold the pigs.”
Russell Rasmussen, a graduate student in the agronomy department, hopes that along with the fun of holding baby livestock and running their hands through seeds at the “plants and products” booth, the students will retain some of the information dealt to them during the event.
“We really want to emphasize the importance of agriculture to the students themselves,” Rasmussen said. “We want these kids to understand that everybody depends on agriculture, and if we can’t manage our crops and livestock we can’t survive.”
With attentive stares and a deluge of questions from the elementary students, graduate students are confident they have left an impression.
“I really think we’ve reached a lot of the kids, despite the short amount of time we get with them,” Rasmussen said.