Around 400 area fourth graders came out to the Wyoming County Fairgrounds last week for Agriculture Day.
Now in its 16th year, the Wyoming County Conservation District has been hosting the annual field trip to expose children to various areas of agriculture.
“Most children are so far removed from the farm nowadays. They don’t understand where their food and fiber comes from,” explained Environmental Education Coordinator Laura Anderson. “We want to show them that there’s a farmer, that an agricultural commodity is where that comes from.”
Throughout the morning and early afternoon, students from Tunkhannock Area and Lackawanna Trail School Districts, as well as Salt & Light Homeschool Group and newcomer Endless Mountains Christian Academy rotated between 14 educational stations.
At one station, Leslie Green and Gary Weidner from Bunker Hill Veterinary Hospital in Factoryville taught children about the veterinary profession and its importance in agriculture.
During the presentation, Green explained the term “zoonotic,” which describes a type of disease transmitted from animals to humans.
Students guessed rabies as an example, and Green said in Pennsylvania, pet dogs and cats need to be vaccinated for the virus that’s common among wild animals such as raccoons and bats.
Signs to look for include salivation, a hyper state or abnormalities with basic functions like walking.
“We take that very seriously because it’s of course very dangerous for people as well,” Green said.
Animals can also transmit salmonella, which Green said is common among chickens, making it important for people collecting eggs to practice good hygiene.
Symptoms are mainly gastrointestinal, she said, with the most common being diarrhea.
Green used her dog Josie to show students how she examines animals at BHVH and passed around jarred samples of a tapeworm and botfly larva, two parasites that could affect pets.
In another station, Tina Henning from Henningstead Holsteins in Mehoopany discussed organic dairy farming alongside Eleanor, a two-month old calf.
The farm has been in her husband’s family since 1847 and transitioned to organic dairy in 2006.
Henning held up an Organic Valley milk carton and explained that consumers can tell a product is organic by looking for the “USDA Organic” label.
Part of organic dairy farming is treating animals well, Henning explained, which is why her cows always have free space to roam throughout the day.
The Henning family also uses natural fertilizer and utilizes homeopathic remedies if their animals get sick.
They also don’t feed their cows corn, as it doesn’t process well in their digestive systems. Instead, they make sure to feed their cows a variety of grasses.
It took one year for their cows’ milk to be considered organic after Henning’s family made the transition.
Meat, on the other hand, cannot be considered organic unless the cow is born organic.
From this point, Henning explained that future cows on her farm need to be organic from the start rather than transitioning regular cows to be organic.
She also touched on the hard work that comes with being a farmer, noting that it’s hard work every day, but worth it in the end.
“Would you work that hard for a job you don’t love?” she said.
Other stations included forestry with Ryan Brown; maple syrup production with Don Russell; agriculture bingo with fair queen Paige Zona and her court; goats with Amanda Ruark; sheep with Donna and Grace Stang; food webs with Linda Falcone; antique farm equipment with Bob Robinson, Rachel Marques and Doug Gay; dairy nutrition with dairy princess Loghan Hirkey and her court; poultry with Justin Seward; 4-H livestock with Sarah Rae Sisson and Charlotte and Luke Carpenter; pigs and people with Paul and Kathy Yoachim; and maple syrup production with Shane Kleiner.
Students also enjoyed ice cream after lunch, courtesy of the Overfield family.
Small group sizes at each station allow for interactive and hands-on learning for the fourth graders, some of which don’t have opportunities to learn about these areas otherwise.
Ag Day also lets students see the various jobs available in the agriculture industry, which remains one of the driving forces of Pennsylvania.
“They have a greater understanding about agriculture once they’re here and they listen to the folks that live it every day and are passionate about it,” Anderson said. “They learn so much and they have so many more opportunities open up to them.”
Next year as fifth graders, many students who came out for Ag Day will also participate in Conservation Field Day, another conservation district educational tradition.
For Anderson, it’s important to take any opportunity to get children outdoors and away from their devices for environmental education.
“Technology is wonderful, and it has its place, but we also want them to experience the fresh air, the sunshine,” Anderson said. “It’s such a great teaching experience when you can be out here.”