By Gary Truitt
How many times have you heard of this scenario? A 4th grader comes home from school saying his teacher told him milk has bad things in it, and he refuses to drink any milk. Or, a student suddenly stops eating meat because farmers abuse animals. These are the kind of things that cause farm families to wring their hands in frustration. Anti-agriculture forces have done a very effective job of putting their propaganda into classrooms and, in many cases, brainwashing unsuspecting and uninformed teachers. Too often farm families feel powerless to effect change. Yet, in reality, the solution is very simple and extremely effective. It only takes a little time, a little creativity, and a whole lot of volunteers. I recently saw firsthand how just a handful of people have put together an extremely effective program that has transformed their local schools from sources of agricultural misinformation to farmer friendly advocates for agriculture.
On a sunny and blustery day last week, over 500 students at the Pine Tree Elementary School in Avon, IN got a firsthand look at the Indiana livestock industry. The students rotated through 10 stations in the gymnasium and the playground in back of the school where a group of Hendricks County farmers conducted mini-seminars about all aspects of livestock production. While there were plenty of animals on display, there were also stations that focused on hay and feed production, animal health and welfare, and even a spinning wheel turning fleece into yarn. There was no elaborate curriculum, just local producers doing what they do best: talking about their farms and their animals.
The students, most from suburban homes, were fascinated and listened with rapt attention to each presentation. When it came time for questions, hands flew into the air as students asked questions that demonstrated both a lack of knowledge about agriculture and a grasp of what was being taught.
Some students were shocked to learn that all milk was white and that chocolate milk did not come from brown cows. The presentations focused on the life cycle of the animals and helped the students understand that animals are food. Several students asked David Hardin, who was manning the pork station, about how bacon is made. Doug Akers, who was showing chickens, was asked were nuggets come from. These future consumers got an accurate picture of livestock production and how animal agriculture fits into their daily lives.
This was the second such program held at this school. Last fall the playground was filled with farm equipment and local farmers explaining how and why it was used. In talking with several of the students after the program, I learned that this school has a farm club -- quite an unusual thing for a suburban school surrounded by miles of concrete and strip malls.
What impressed me as much as the success of this program is that fact that it was all put together by local volunteers. No big grand plan, no government funding, just local farmers, agri-businesses, and the Farm Bureau coming together to tell the story of agriculture to the city folks who live in their county. The simplicity of this program is the key to its success and proof that groups of farmers can effect change in their own communities if they are willing to get involved.
There is nothing particularly innovative or new about the Hendricks County program, similar efforts are being made in many other counties across the nation. Yet, in many areas, there is not any kind of a local effort to help non-farm folks understand and experience agriculture. All that is required to start a program in your community is a passion to tell the ag story and a willingness to get off your rump and get involved. The Hendricks County program started with one person standing up and getting the ball rolling. Are you the one person in your community who will get things started in your county?
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