East Texas students get up close and personal with agriculture
The questions flew as a group of Ore City Elementary School students petted and looked at chicks.
"Did these ones just hatch?"
"How did they get fur so fast?"
"When babies first hatch do they nap a lot?"
And the last one, something along the lines of when they get bigger, whether would somebody take them home as pets.
"They don't make very good pets," said Sarah Bolt, Smith County extension agent for 4-H clubs and youth development.
And then under her breath, "These chicks are actually designed to be eaten."
It is that very connection between agriculture and the role it plays in all people's lives that AgriWorld at the East Texas State Fair is designed to address.
With 14 stations in four thematic areas, volunteers from multiple organizations teach students about how the natural world -- plant and animal life -- is directly connected to their lives.
"Most of them come from the city," Ms. Bolt said of the students. "They've never gotten to see anything like this. ... Some of the kids, this will be the closest they ever get to agriculture, right here."
The space is divided into four areas: the secret garden, country life, wildlife wonders, and agriculture in my community.
Within each area are several stations. At each station, students learn about something related to that topic.
In the Secret Garden, this included backyard wildscapes, the origin of certain fruits and vegetables, composting and water conservation.
In Country Life, students learned about fish, cows and other barnyard animals.
In Wildlife Wonders, they learned about bats, campsite setup and wildlife success stories.
And in Agriculture in My Community, they heard from representatives at organizations that promote agriculture in the community.
About 2,000 students from across East Texas were expected to attend.
Deborah Newman, director of competitive events for The Park of East Texas, said every year the volunteers try to make the program better than the last and they change things so that returning students won't get bored.
"We think it's a wonderful program and the volunteers work very hard," she said.AROUND AGRIWORLD
Used faux foliage, the Smith County Master Gardeners created what appeared to be a veritable garden. At the first stop in the area, Ore City Elementary School students heard from master gardener Jim Showen, who talked to them about how to set up a wildscape in their backyard and how to attract certain animals and repel others.
A few minutes later, Neysa Mueller, also a master gardener, shared with students about where certain fruits and vegetables originated.
"We have strawberries up here, but they started down here," she said pointing to different spots on a map featuring North and South America. "People in both areas traded plants back and forth."
Students then looked at fruits and vegetables that were produced by the Native Americans and still are eaten today.
In the country life area, Chad Gulley, Smith County extension agent for agriculture and natural resources, stood in a mock animal pen and talked about livestock and why people raise them.
When he asked the Chapel Hill ISD Jackson Elementary School students whether they were involved in agriculture, they said no. He quickly showed them that they are.
He said all people are involved in agriculture to some degree even if they are on the receiving end
Animals play a role in the food people eat, the products they buy and even some of the medicines they use, he said.WHAT THEY LEARNED
Students seemed to marvel at the animals they got to see as well as the new information they learned. Exclamations were frequent.
Jackson Elementary School second-grader David Renteria, 7, said his favorite part of the tour was seeing the bees at the East Texas Beekeepers Association display.
Classmate Keely Jacobs, 8, said she learned something new at the chick hatching station.
"I didn't' know that the chickens had to do a chicken dance, and that it's good for them," Keely said.
Although the dance doesn't involve moving hands and arms like the human chicken dance does, they do shuffle their feet so that they can roll every egg to give the chicks inside some exercise, Ms. Bolt said.
Ore City Elementary School fourth-grader Bo Deshotel, 10, said his favorite part of the tour was the fish tank.
A large round tank, similar to a small above-ground swimming pool, held multiple fish. A net over it and a window on the side made for easy viewing.
"It was like I was underwater swimming with them," Bo said.
Maria Yanez, 10, also an Ore City fourth-grader, said her favorite part of the tour was seeing the baby chicks because they were cute.
Tina Thomas, Ore City Elementary School educational diagnostician, said this was the first time the school brought students here.
"We're really encouraging more of the community projects and community involvement with our kids," she said. "It's very educational."
Jackson Elementary School nurse Starlea Atkison agreed that the event is educational.
"Our kids love it," she said. "This is probably some of the best exposure for our children because some of them have never experienced what this place has."