Cooperative Extension event connects students with agriculture

The importance of agriculture in everyday life was demonstrated to Stanly County third graders recently through the Ag Awareness Days program at the Stanly County Agri-Civic Center.

The event, sponsored through the North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service, was first held in 2005, and has been conducted annually since.
“We will have over 700 students here during the three days of the program,” Lori Ivey, Cooperative Extension director, said.

As part of the program, third graders at all public and private schools in the county make the trip to the Agri-Civic Center at an assigned time. Upon arrival, each class rotates through 12 stations where they spend 20 minutes each in hands-on activities related to various facets of agriculture.

“We want to teach these students the importance of agriculture and the environment,” Ivey said. “Not many of them grow up on farms, and it’s not unusual for some of them to have the impression that food and clothing comes from various stores, instead of considering how it’s grown or raised on farms.”

Each of the stations focus on a different element in the creation of food and clothing, and include Livestock, Cotton, Wheat, Forestry, Nutrition, Corn, Bees, Soybeans, Soils, Aquaponics, Local Foods and Poultry. The stations are staffed by volunteers from various organizations.

Brian Hinson of Lucky Clays Farm explains aquaponics to students at Ag Awareness Days.

“We have over 50 adult and teen volunteers who work the stations,” Ivey said. “The North Stanly and West Stanly FFA (Future Farmers of America) organizations assist at the corn, livestock and poultry stations respectively, and other groups such as the North Carolina Forest Service, the Stanly County Beekeepers Association, Lucky Clays Farm and others are what makes this event go.”

Josh Pratt and Dustin Adcock of the Cooperative Extension Service explained the many uses of cotton and how the crop is grown and harvested in Stanly County.

At a neighboring station, Dan Whittington of the North Carolina Small Grain Growers provided a presentation on wheat’s nutritional value and its many uses.

Brian Hinson of Lucky Clays Farms demonstrated the concept of aquaponics to another group, and Joe Smith of the Stanly County Beekeepers Association drew attention from students as he stood inside a screened enclosure containing a hive, displaying the honeycomb frame from within the hive to the students as thousands of bees buzzed around him.

“This is our 15th year of offering the program, and we make some adjustments to the format each year, based on feedback from teachers and volunteers,” Ivey said. “But without our volunteers, partnering organizations and the relationships we have with the local schools, this program would not be possible.”

Toby Thorpe is a freelance contributor for The Stanly News & Press.