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Volunteers take ag message to Olmsted County students

By Janet Kubat Willette

Date Modified: 05/28/2013 8:06 AM

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STEWARTVILLE, Minn. — Sarah Pedelty held up an egg and asked the fourth graders what kind of animal laid it.

The guesses started. A farm animal, Pedelty reminded them.

Sooner then one might think, they arrived at the origin of the egg — a turkey. The process was repeated again with a goose egg and a duck egg Pedelty held before the classroom at Central Intermediate School in Stewartville on May 7.

She also showed a pullet egg, an egg from a hen less than a year old, and a robin egg that fell from a nest during a recent storm.

Pedelty was one of several presenters who shared their knowledge with students at Stewartville. Skip Langer of the Olmsted County Soil and Water Conservation District, Angie Gupta of University of Minnesota Extension, Ken Levos of AgStar Financial Services and dairy farmers Jessie Twohey and Meghan Connelly were other presenters.

The six are among about 20 Ag in the Classroom volunteers who go into schools in Olmsted County in April and May. In addition to eight schools in Olmsted County, volunteers also give Ag in the Classroom presentations at Kingsland Schools in Fillmore County and Southland Schools in Mower County.

More than 1,000 students are reached, said Lisa Behnken, a University of Minnesota Extension educator who has coordinated the program for more than 15 years.

"It's all about volunteers," Behnken said.

She strives to find people who live within the school district to present agricultural topics. It's a connection for students to learn about the type of agriculture and ag careers in their community. She also likes to send current and past dairy princesses and pork ambassadors into classrooms, as students benefit from seeing young adults in agriculture.

Volunteers leave behind educational materials from Minnesota Agriculture in the Classroom and commodity groups to supplement the presentations. Olmsted County's dairy producers also make sure string cheese is available for each student.

Most of their schools request they come back year after year, Behnken said.

That's certainly true in Stewartville where presenter Twohey remembered the presentation Behnken gave to her class when she was in fourth grade.

The agricultural literacy presentations "give students and teachers a taste of agriculture in their community," Behnken said.

In most classrooms, there may be a kid from the farm or a kid whose grandparent farms, but the connection to agriculture is eroding.

The Ag in the Classroom presentations aim to re-establish that connection and it's also a nice fit for teaching standards, Behnken said. It puts a face to the people who are growing food in students' communities.

Pedelty is a vendor at the Chatfield Farmer's Market. She is known for selling sweet corn.

Why do people go to farmers' markets? For taste, variety and because they want to support local farmers, Pedelty said.

She asked how many students disliked radishes and almost every hand in the room went up. Try a purple radish, she suggested. How many like tomatoes? Pedelty suggested students keep trying until they find a variety they like. After all, there are more than 5,000 varieties.

Two volunteers cracked a chicken egg, one from her farm and one she'd picked up at the store that morning. The yolks were different color. Why?

After going through many ideas from students, Pedelty told them it's because of what the chickens eat. Her chickens are free-range.

"They are eating whatever they want to eat," she said.

In another classroom, Twohey and Connelly talked about dairy production.

Dairy products provide nine essential nutrients, they said, and it's important to consume three servings of milk every day.

Connelly, an Olmsted County dairy princess, asked how much a calf would weigh when it was born and how much a cow weighs. She also asked about dairy terms, inviting the students to identify what name farmers give a girl calf and a boy calf.

She and Twohey, whose family is hosting Rochesterfest Country Breakfast on the Farm on June 29, showed samples of milk replacer, calf starter and a total mixed ration.

Just down the hall, Langer said soil doesn't equal dirt. Soil is made up of silt, sand and clay. He carried samples of each around the classroom in a bucket, showing students up close.

He showed landscape models and jars filled with water and sediment.

A lot of the presentations work into lesson plans, Behnken said. Agriculture can be used to learn science, math, geography and other subjects.