City-dwelling elementary students at Sarnia’s Queen Elizabeth II Public School got a chance to learn about the ABCs of agriculture as a pair of local farmers talked to them about subjects ranging from agronomy to beef cattle to crop rotation.

It was all part of an initiative designed to inform youth about the importance of local agriculture while celebrating national Agriculture Day.

The presentation was one of 55 classroom visits taking place across Lambton County and Chatham-Kent during the week, presentations organized as a joint effort between the Lambton Federation of Agriculture, Lambton Kent Agriculture in the Classroom Committee and the Science Education Partnership.

With topics ranging from Farm to Table, Caring for Farm Animals and Growing Our Food, students from Kindergarten to Grade 8 learned about the agricultural production that takes place in proximity to their own communities, from two of farmers who were able to answer their questions.

Farmers Blair Williamson and Brooke Leystra arrived at the elementary school bearing bags of soybeans and wheat, miniature models of John Deere tractors and plush cows and pigs – along with PowerPoint presentation – to help raise awareness among the students about local agriculture while helping them connect the dots between the food they buy at the grocery store and the people who produce it.

Williamson and Leystra visited nine classes in all throughout the school, carefully tailoring their message to match up with each grade’s curriculum and level of understanding.

It’s hard to cover everything in half an hour, but we try to give them a general, overall idea of what’s going on around them in Lambton County,” said Leystra, a farmer as well as past president of the Lambton Federation.

We’re also tying to show them that farming is a world that’s accessible to them and that they can find out more if they’re interested in it.”

Agriculture is a topic that lends itself to all grades, Leystra said, as it complements many aspects of the curriculum.

It’s a fun topic – every kid loves animals and going outside and nature, so it’s not difficult to get them engaged and excited,” she said. “And you know, even within schools some grades are interested in talking about soils, so we can focus more about that, some grades are interested in plants, so we can focus on that – it just depends on the class and where they are in the curriculum.”

Some of the older classes wanted to hear about specific things, issues like sustainability and how it relates to my beef farm, for instance,” said the Federation’s Williamson. “We’re able to cover a lot of ground.”

While the pair admitted to having received some unusual questions from the mostly urban-based students (“We had kids ask us ‘do pigs lay baby eggs?’” Williamson said, laughing), for the most part the students were engaged and enthusiastic about the presentations.

What’s great is letting these kids know that farmers are real people who live alongside them right here in Lambton County,” Leystra said. “I think that’s one thing we really wanted to bring home through our presentations – that we’re regular people too, it’s not just like the old guy with the pitchfork. There’s men, women, young, old in farming – it’s a very inclusive industry.”

Getting kids engaged, getting them thinking about where their food comes from, and getting them interested in agriculture as a potential career is something that has been lacking in years past, Williamson said.

The success of this local program – bringing farmers into schools – has been noticed in other jurisdictions across Ontario, he said.

I think farmers have failed to tell their stories properly for a couple of generations, so now we need to because the disconnect has become so huge,” Williamson said. “I know for a fact that other counties are catching on to what we are doing here. I have other colleagues across the province who are jealous about how well we’ve done with these presentations.”

With a dizzying array of facts dancing around in their heads – from how farmers protect themselves from flooding to the top types of food grown in Lambton County to how often should you feed your livestock – members of Sally Parkinson’s Grade 5 Queen Elizabeth II Public School class said they were impressed by the half-hour presentation.

Students Troy Hanna and Wyatt Steinburg said the presentation shed a lot of light on a subject for which they had little previous understanding.

Their presentation was really good,” Steinburg said. “We learned about crop rotation and how to get rid of bugs. It was really interesting stuff.”

And we also learned that there’s tons of different types of farms and different jobs for different people on farms,” Hanna added. “I think it made me more interested in the whole subject. I’ve been to a blueberry farm before, but I didn’t know anything about all these different types of farms around here… it was pretty interesting.”

By Carl Hnatyshyn
from: Sarnia This Week

Area farmers reach out to local elementary school classrooms

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