Master Gardeners spin educational webs at the fair
By KEITH HANSEN
Keeping It Green
The East Texas State Fair is the perfect setting for the classic children's story "Charlotte's Web" to be told in a totally unique way by the Smith County Master Gardeners in their award-winning Secret Garden exhibit.
As rural populations decline and youth grow up in an urban setting surrounded by concrete and asphalt, it's not surprising that young people don't know all that much about agriculture, gardening and the natural environment. Kids especially often don't have a good understanding of where the fabric for our clothes, the wood for our homes, and the food on our table come from, and are typically insulated from the wonders of the natural world around us.
That's the purpose of the AgriWorld exhibit at the East Texas State Fair. AgriWorld is located in the Youth Education Building (look for the cow and horse in front of Building E), and consists of a series of displays and exhibits that educate kids on a wide range of subjects from gardening, to agriculture, and the outside natural world around us.
In the Secret Garden, Charlotte, the spider, has spun webs in six sections to highlight several concepts. When you first enter the Secret Garden, you'll encounter a backyard setting, complete with a miniature house landscaped with plants donated by local wholesale nurseries. Look at the top of the roof to see a functioning rain water harvesting system. The backyard is designed to teach how to make any yard, even one in the city, a wildscape favorable to birds, butterflies, lizards and other critters. Providing food, shelter and water are three keys to creating a native habitat attractive to wildlife.
The Texas Superstar area features information about proven landscape plants to beautify your yard, plants that are Texas-tough, not requiring pampering to survive our climate.
Next, Charlotte gives kids a different spin on spiders. While there are a couple of poisonous spiders in East Texas, the black widow and brown recluse spiders, there are hundreds of other beneficial spider species that play an important role in our natural ecology. Did you know that not all spiders spin webs like Charlotte? Hopefully passing through this section will combat arachnophobia.
Did you know that the vast majority of vegetables we typically consume originated in the Americas? North, Central and South America have provided a wealth of important vegetables for our diet. Charlotte and the Master Gardeners will be teaching kids about the 3 Sisters Garden (corn, beans and squash).
With fall weather arriving, our trees will begin their annual shedding of their leaves. Have you ever considered why the forests are not buried under mountains of fallen leaves? Of course, they start decomposing right away, and eventually turn in to a rich and important component of the soil. The "Green and Brown - Breaking it Down" section highlights composting and how we can create our own soil amendment for our gardens.
The last section of the Secret Garden you enter Water World. Have you ever wondered what happens to water after it goes down the drain? Water is our most precious natural resource, for without it, life cannot be sustained. Not only must we maintain a good supply of water through conservation practices, but the quality of that water must be preserved.
Test your knowledge by playing the Junior Master Gardener game at one of the two computer stations. Questions in several different categories will challenge you in a Jeopardy-style quiz.
Elsewhere in AgriWorld, in the Country World you'll learn all about the life cycle of chickens, and can observe baby chicks hatching out daily. There's a barnyard filled with barnyard animals created from recycled materials by local high school students. The area highlights common animals raised by farmers and ranchers for food for our table.
Food and fiber are two things we often take for granted, but Texas is a major producer of both, and Food and Fiber exhibit features cotton, known as White Gold, as the favorite fabric when it comes to comfort. On the food side, learn more about one of the crops East Texas is known for -- blueberries, which are not only delicious, but also very good for your health. The East Texas State Fair Farmer's Market exhibit highlights locally grown food available through area farmers markets.
Speaking of food, today typically someone else is preserving our food for later purchase and consumption. But once upon a time, not so very long ago, food was commonly preserved at home. Check out the AgriWorld exhibit on the history of food preservation, including a root cellar and canning.
Finally, explore the Wildlife Zone where you will find a large fish tank filled with native fish and crawfish, and a really cool observation honeybee hive. Don't get creeped out by the Parks and Wildlife bats exhibit, which teaches all about these fascinating mammals. Learn to recognize animals by their tracks and use that knowledge in Wildlife CSI.
Pre-scheduled school tours will be next Tuesday through Friday 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. but you are welcome to come explore AgriWorld any time before or after that time whenever the Fair is open.
Check out the Smith County Master Gardeners and the East Texas State Fair's websites and Facebook pages to find out more about what's going on.
The kids will love AgriWorld, and so will you!
Keith Hansen is Smith County Horticulturist with the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service. His web page is http://EastTexasGardening.tamu.edu
His Blog is http://agrilife.org/etg
Texas AgriLife Extension Service educational programs are open to all individuals without regard to race, color, sex, disability, religion, age or national origin.