Elementary school pupils got their gloves dirty this week learning about agriculture during the annual Spring Days program held at the Children’s Animal Farm in Sarnia’s Canatara Park.
The gloves were used during a session Oil Springs farmer Ralph Ward led on plants and pollinators that included the chance to gather a “pollinator seed ball” of soil and wildflower seeds to take home and plant in their yards.
“We’ve had about 450 students in total, and lots of parents too,” said Jessica Kember, co-ordinator of the Spring Days education event offered by the Lambton-Kent Agriculture in the Classroom action committee.
“Our hope to is educate about agriculture and shorten the gap between the consumer and the producer.”
That includes letting them know farmers “respect our animals,” said Kember, who grew up on a dairy farm and visits local classrooms as a dairy educator.
Kember said only two per cent of the population today are farmers, compared to a few generations ago when many more Canadians had a direct family connection to farms.
The program is geared for Grade 4 and ties in with the school curriculum for that age group, particularly at a hands-on session on pulleys and levers.“That’s good for the teachers because they are looking for curriculum-linked activities for field trips,” Kember said.
One session involved a tour to see all of the livestock at the popular city animal farm while another was hosted by Enniskillen Township egg farmer Judy Krall.
“She knows a lot about chickens and eggs,” Kember said.
The City of Sarnia allows the group to use the animal farm for the program, which helps to keep the costs down.
It also has “a ton of sponsors” so the action committee can offer the program to schools at no cost, and even kick in some money to help with busing costs.
There was also a free barbecue for the students Friday.
“This is the perfect place,” she said of the location that has been used for the program for a decade or more. “It’s already open to the public.”
A challenge to having schools visit working farms is that livestock producers often have biosecurity measures in place to prevent the transfer of disease, Kember said.
“Also, some animals aren’t used to hundreds of people coming through,” she added. “It might stress them out, while these guys are already used to it.”
The committee also offers Harvest Days in the fall at the Ridgetown Campus of the University of Guelph, with a program aimed at Grade 3, and has an Adopt A Farmer program where classrooms can take a virtual farm tour using Skype or Facetime.