MANSON - While Iowa's agricultural roots run deep, it's not uncommon for an entire class at a local school to have no students who live on a working farm - even in rural Iowa.
That's why members of the Calhoun County Farm Bureau became teachers for a day on Feb. 28 to help educate Manson Northwest Webster students about modern agriculture.
"We want to show the students that agriculture today is much more than driving a tractor or doing chores on the farm," said Dennis Booth, a Calhoun County Farm Bureau board member and former high school math teacher from Lytton, who now raises sheep, corn and soybeans. "No matter what their job will be in the future, agriculture will have an impact on their work in some way."
-Messenger photo by Darcy Dougherty Maulsby
Brandon Betten, left, and Ben Albright, both cattle producers and Calhoun County Farm Bureau board members, helped Manson-Northwest Webster middle school students learn about modern cattle production during Ag Day.
Booth and his fellow Calhoun County Farm Bureau board members and other volunteers offered 10 different educational sessions for 115 middle school students at MNW. The 25-minute sessions covered swine production, cattle production, ag/diesel mechanics, Iowa corn and soybean production, veterinary medicine, technology in agriculture, conservation, ag banking, ag trivia, international agriculture, popcorn production and more.
The wide array of food products containing ingredients derived from Iowa's ag commodities impressed Alex McLuckie, an eighth-grader from Manson who was surprised to learn that Oreo cookies contain cornstarch.
"Ag Day is fun," said McLuckie, who said he was especially interested in the diesel mechanics seminar. "I like getting to learn about lots of different things."
The MNW event marks the Calhoun County Farm Bureau's second annual Ag Day. Board members organized and hosted a similar event for South Central Calhoun middle school students a year ago in Rockwell City.
"I was impressed by how well our Ag Day events have been received, not only by the students, but by the teachers, as well," said Ben Albright, a Lytton-area cattle producer and farmer, who serves as president of the Calhoun County Farm Bureau. "A lot of them were really interested in the topics."
Albright teamed up with Brandon Betten, a fellow Farm Bureau board member from Jolley, to explain beef production basics.
"We cover the different facets of production and highlight the educational components we utilize every day to be successful producers," said Albright, who brought feed samples and animal husbandry tools to enhance the PowerPoint presentation. "We also emphasize the tremendous amount of care we give to our animals, as well as the costs involved."
Dr. Paul Armbrecht, a veterinarian based in Lake City, also focused on animal care, including livestock and household pets. "Everyone is affected by agriculture in one way or another," said Armbrecht, who has enjoyed teaching at Ag Day for the past two years.
"Ag Day offers a great opportunity to get in front of young people and help educate them. If just one thing catches their attention, we've made a connection."
Helping students understand where their food comes from is also a key goal of Ag Day volunteers.
Tom Decker, a third-generation Calhoun County farmer, who raises popcorn, explained to the students how he markets his family's Farmers Best popcorn brand to diversify his row-crop operation.
"Consumers want to know where their food comes from and I'm glad we can offer a locally-grown product."
Meeting the people involved in food production offers a unique way to showcase the wide array of ag-related career opportunities in Iowa, Albright said.
"We want kids to know that with the right education and training, they can live and work in rural Iowa," he said. "They don't have to move to a big city to find a good job."
Agriculture isn't like it was 30 years ago, added Jeff Anliker, MNW's school counselor.
"Ag Day is great, because it exposes the kids to many different areas of modern agriculture and career opportunities."
Introducing students to these new concepts is beneficial on many levels, added Ryan Harman, a physical education teacher at MNW.
"Ag Day is quite an eye opener for the kids," he said. "It's great to see them ask questions and learn about the importance of science, math and writing from people who use these skills in their careers."
Ag Day is a rewarding experience for everyone involved, said Booth, who spearheaded the effort.
"It takes many volunteers to do this, along with school administrators' willingness to give this a try," he said. "We've received a very positive feedback and look forward to hosting Ag Day again next year."