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Fort Collins elementary students get a taste of agriculture at Colorado State University

Hundreds of Poudre School District third-graders streamed from buses to get their taste of agriculture.

The students spent their time Sept. 28-29 at Colorado State University's Agricultural Research, Development and Education Center as part of Agricultural Adventure Day.

The kids worked with CSU student leaders in a hands-on experience, which included meeting CSU mascot Cam the Ram, horses and cattle.

But this event was no petting zoo.

CSU student leaders crafted this encounter to correlate with classroom curricula.

During the event, volunteers cycled students through 16 stations where they learned about food safety, crops, soil and water, sheep shearing and wool processing, livestock breeds and more. There were almost 2,000 kids present, all spending about five minutes at each station.

The 72 classrooms of kids traded their school buses for tractor-pulled hay wagons to journey from the agronomy area to the animal science site. The gleeful kids paid close attention to their guides, as they moved past cornfields as the dust billowed from the loose gravel and hay chaff lodged in their hair.

The kids and their chaperones watched Pete Hoffmann shear sheep. Hoffman, of Top Knot Shearing in Fort Collins said the kids in his family learned how to shear.

Hoffmann, now 26, started when he was 15. Since then, he's sheared about 30,000 sheep.

"It takes 800 to realize what you're doing," Hoffmann said. "This isn't insanity — it's just fun. If you don't do it because you love it, you're just a fool."

At another station, Ron Gentry, a senior agricultural education major at CSU caused loud cheers from Bauder Elementary third graders when he said there were only two rules.

"You must have fun and you must get dirty," Gentry said.

Gentry said he returned to CSU to complete his degree after a 20-year hiatus. He plans to teach at the high school level after graduation, although his experience Thursday gave him second thoughts.

The third graders dug right into the dirt at Gentry's station, where he and other student leaders taught them the difference between sand, clay and loam, and why one is better than the others.

Gentry said Agricultural Adventure Day brings it home to these kids whose city upbringing may give them few chances to get their hands dirty and see what agriculture really is.

"Eggs don't come from the grocery store and milk isn't made in a factory somewhere. They actually get to see where their food is produced," Gentry said.

CSU agriculture and resource economics professor Marshall Frasier has served the student leaders' advisor since Agricultural Adventure Day's started in 2001. It's run every year since, except for 2015.

Frasier said in 2000 the students' Agricultural Council wanted to address the public perception of agriculture. He said they wrestled with how they could get consumers to better understand agriculture's role in society, and they decided to focus on future consumers.

After meeting with elementary students and teachers, the kids' idea was just a glorified petting zoo, Frasier said. Teachers, however, said they couldn't afford to waste a day of instruction if it didn't help them become more effective in their teaching.

That's why the event is tailored to common core requirements.

This year, Alex Heeke, a sophomore agricultural business major was responsible for ensuring each station met the curriculum standards created by previous student leaders.

Heeke said she rewrote the precision agriculture section that featured a marriage of technology and agriculture in a tractor's GPS system. The GPS system enables farmers to plant seed precisely where it needs to be. This correlates with map reading and measurement skills the third-graders learn in their classrooms.

"Third graders are really into maps," Heeke said. "So we really try to do the classroom stuff that the teachers can use."

Frasier said Agricultural Adventure works for CSU student leaders, the kids and their instructors.

Frasier said the event is great for the teachers because they can refer back to the event in the classroom.

As for the CSU students, Frasier said this is all student-developed and student-run. It's based on a core of eight to 11 leaders, augmented by student-run clubs and many freshmen volunteers. They learn first-hand what leadership is about in the real world, he said.

"They know they've done something real today," Frasier said. ❖