kids petting pigsWhen it comes to capturing the attention of fourth-graders, visual demonstrations are a creative and engaging tactic.

That’s what organizers of the Living Ag Classrooms program have long understood in presenting their farm-to-fork message to 9- and 10-year-olds in schools throughout North Dakota. The program began in Minot in 1995 and was such a success that the organizers expanded it into Fargo in 1997 and Bismarck in 2003. The program is held once a year in the Minot, Fargo and Bismarck areas incorporating their respective surrounding schools.

These learning experiences are targeted at fourth-graders whose school curriculum covers the history and culture of the state.

Well over 4,000 students and 230 teachers turn out each year to attend these events.

Presenters at these events represent 12 to 15 different commodity groups and agricultural organizations, and use easy-to-understand visuals or hands-on activities to impart their lesson. They help bring a “real-world” exposure to the students, says one of the program’s participants.

“A lot of kids thought that milk just came from the store and didn’t have any idea of the connection to the dairy cow,” says Nancy Jo Bateman, executive director of the North Dakota Beef Commission who has been involved in Living Ag Classrooms since it began. “They thought honey was just something sweet and didn’t realize bees were involved.”

ND ag education [INFOGRAPHIC]Eye-Opening Experiences

In addition to being introduced to various commodity groups and dispelling common misconceptions, students learn about agriculture.

Some displays, for instance, demonstrate the four F’s of corn (food, feed, fuel, fiber), or show how bubble gum comes from the inner lining of a pig’s stomach. Bateman’s beef booth has a similar approach.

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“We start by talking about how there are two to three times the number of cattle in our state as there are people,” she explains. “Then we’ll talk about all the different cuts of beef that they might enjoy and where they come from, and then about nutrition and food safety. We’ll end by showing other things that we get from cattle in addition to food. They usually think that’s pretty eye-opening.”

Bateman estimates that over 88,000 fourth-grade students have visited a Living Ag Classroom in North Dakota. Some of the very first students that ever attended are now parents with their own fourth grade children participating in the event.

Ag-related education and showcase opportunities are available in other ways as well, including the Red River Valley Fair, North Dakota State Fair and numerous county fairs held throughout the state.

The Red River Valley Fair is held annually in July in West Fargo. The Red River Valley Fairgrounds includes a 16,000-square-foot Ag Education Center that opened in 2009. It is designed to educate any of the 110,000 fairgoers who attend the fair each year, teaching them about agriculture and where their food comes from. The focus of the center is farm-to-fork.

“The Ag Education Center is one stop for everything education-related,” says Katy Stenerson, sponsorship and marketing coordinator for the fair. “We have live animals, and that includes beef, dairy, sheep, swine, goats and poultry. We also have a lot of North Dakota and Minnesota crops such as soybeans, corn, wheat, barley, sugarbeets and sunflowers.”

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New to the center is a hands-on demonstration table where volunteers give demonstrations on how to cook or make a product, using some of the items found in the building.

North Dakota State Fair

The North Dakota State Fair is the place to showcase agricultural education in North Dakota. For over 50 years, FFA and 4-H members have been exhibiting their best projects and accomplishments and showcasing the skills and abilities learned in agricultural education. Many spend long hours nurturing and growing top-quality crops and premium livestock, designing and building outstanding exhibits, creating beautiful artwork, writing thoughtful essays and much more.

“The North Dakota State Fair showcases the youth of our state and their accomplishments and recognizes them for their contributions,” North Dakota Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring says. “It encourages them to continue their involvement in agriculture.”

The State Fair is also the place to see innovations in the world of agriculture technology and equipment. Fairgoers can investigate everything from state-of-the-art computer software to the latest and largest combines and more.

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