Fourth graders get an education on agriculture and conservation
POCAHONTAS — Fourth-graders from Pocahontas County took to an outdoor classroom last week for the Agriculture and Conservation Day held at the Pocahontas County Fairgrounds.
Lisa Zeman, county youth coordinator for Pocahontas County Iowa State University Extension and Outreach, said approximately 80 students from Laurens-Marathon, Pocahontas Catholic and Pocahontas Area schools attended the event, which was made possible with partnerships with Farm Bureau, Pilot Creek FFA, Siemens Gamesa Renewable Energy, ISU Learning Farms, Pocahontas County Conservation and local producers.
Several sessions were available for the students, including programs on wind energy, Water Rocks, gate to plate, pollinators, dairy, drones and other livestock.
“We’re a very rural county, but a lot of our students are not from farms anymore,” said Zeman. “They don’t have an agricultural background and we just feel it is very important to keep teaching them about farming.”
Kay DeWall, a fourth grade teacher for Pocahontas Catholic School, said she loves the hands-on experiences her students gain from the Agriculture and Conservation Day.
“They can experience it right here, right now,” said DeWall. “I told the students, ‘You know there is a lot that can be learned in the classroom, but there is a lot that can be learned outside the classroom,’ and this is wonderful.”
Mike Spilious, with Siemens Gamesa Technology Corporation — which built the Pocahontas County Prairie Wind Farm — helped present on on wind technology.
“We’re just covering what we do as wind technicians,” he said. “We’re taking them on a virtual tour of one of our towers.”
Spilious said he found it important to speak to the fourth-graders to help promote renewable energy, local jobs and career interests. The presentation also included some hands-on activities.
“I think they enjoy playing with equipment, seeing what we do,” he said. “They ask questions about how long it takes to build them, how many houses they can power and what happens when the wind doesn’t blow.”
One fact that brought an “awe” out of the students was the fact one wind turbine blade is as big as a school bus.
Lori Janssen was representing her family’s dairy, Janssen Dairy, located east of Pocahontas.
Janssen said they milk 120 head of Holstein cows and decided it was important to present at the Agriculture and Conservation Day in order to show the kids what it’s like to milk a cow — using a display cow with udders — and what cows eat, as well as pretty much everything else about dairy cattle.
“A lot of kids do not know where milk comes from,” she said. “We’ve had tours on our farm and we’ve heard kids say, ‘We get our milk form the store.’ I am doing this just to inform them. I think it is good to start teaching them now, so they know where their milk comes from and we’re not being mean to the cows.”
Corinne Peterson, a naturalist with Pocahontas County Conservation, spoke to the group on pollinators, “explaining to them how important pollinators are for our food supply and for nature in general.”
As she explained to the students, pollinators come in all sorts of species including bees, grasshoppers, moths, flies, bats and other mammals such as ground squirrels.
Peterson added that it’s important to protect those pollinators.
“Restoring our habitat. That would be the No. 1 course of action and making sure we have the host plants and the food plants that the different pollinators need,” she said.
For the livestock presentation, Cody Peterson, a senior member of the Pilot Creek FFA brought a cow/calf pair and some sheep to show the fourth graders.
As part of the presentation, Peterson said he talked to them about the animals, including what byproducts they provide.
Peterson said livestock and farming is a passion of his he wanted to share.
“This is really what I am interested in and would like to get more people interested in it too,” he said.
Liz Juchems, conservation outreach specialist with Water Rocks, brought the conservation demonstration trailer, which includes a rainfall simulator.
The word of the day was “watershed.” The fourth-graders were taught that a watershed is an area of land going to the nearest body of water.
Along with learning what a watershed is, the students were given lessons on ways to help protect water quality.
During the session, the students had the opportunity see firsthand the effects of runoff from rainfall on different surfaces, including a sidewalk, intense tillage, conservation tillage, no-till and soil with a cover crop.
Juchems said having a cover on the soil allows the rain to soak in.
“Soil can clean and filter water and it needs that opportunity for water to soak into the soil.”
The students examining the runoff agreed the soil with an active growing cover crop had the least amount of soil runoff.
“Using live plant material or dead plant material, the idea is to keep the soil covered,” Juchems said. “Anything we can do to keep the soil covered will keep it in place.”
She added that in Iowa, on average, there is a loss of 5 tons of topsoil per acre every year.
“We need that soil,” said Kaden Fulkerth, a fourth grade student from the Laurens-Marathon Community School District.
Juchems told the students there are other ways to help protect our water supply: by picking up trash, watch the timing of fertilizer and pesticide applications, and just overall using less water.
Jayla Glover showed her interest at the potential opportunity to join the Water Rocks team someday.
“It was interesting and I have always liked how soil and water work,” she said. “I don’t live on a farm, but I love farms. I was excited to learn about watersheds, the soil and what I can do to help the soil be strong.”
Juchems said the children enjoyed the day.
“They clearly had fun with our demonstrations and they are interested in the topics and ideas,” she said. “And this also provides us feedback with what is working.”