Wyoming expo gives Laramie County youth a snapshot of agriculture
September 22, 2017
A group of about 15 fourth graders let out a sympathetic "awwww" in chorus when they found out pigs can get sunburned.
This idea was new to them; for most of them, their only knowledge of swine stemmed from "Charlotte's Web." They actually named the two piglets Wilber and Charlotte during a short station where they had a quick lesson about pigs.
The group was a small fraction of the 948 students the Laramie County Cowbelles hosted between Sept. 19 and 20 to teach them about one of the largest industries in the state: agriculture.
"So many kids live in a town or a city that they are exposed to (misinformation about agriculture)," said Cowbelles member Patty Epler. "This is a one-day taste of it."
The Cowbelles have hosted the expo for more than 20 years, and at this point, according to Michelle Vercelli, the expo has come down to a science. There have been adjustments, like going from a half-day to a full-day, but the core lessons taught year to year all focus on giving the fourth graders a chance to learn about an industry they're connected to but don't necessarily know much about.
MAKING A CONNECTION
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Many members of the Cowbelles pointed to findings that kids don't always know where food originates from — no, the store is not the correct answer. But that's part of why the expo exists; the kids have a chance to learn how agriculture is part of their day-to-day life, even if they don't know it.
"If you eat you're involved in agriculture," said Erin Barkey with the Western Dairy Association.
Barkey was with June the Cow, Western Dairy's animatronic cow used to teach people about the dairy industry. That includes the chance to milk the cow.
While it wasn't real milk, the kids still got to see where milk comes from before it's stocked in stores.
The kids also got to see the crops responsible for foods like bread and pasta. They were shown what wheat looks like, the type of tractors used on wheat fields and how wheat is grounded up to make flour.
It was only a snapshot of one of the largest crops in Wyoming. You can't get too many details when you're limited to 20 minutes a station, but the snapshot was enough for them to learn the stocks of wheat are ultimately responsible for many types of food.
A LARGER INSIGHT
Even for the kids who live on a farm or a ranch, there were so many topics that everyone learned something.
They also heard about bees, wildlife in Wyoming, electricity and cattle herding.
Bob and Jan Wagner of Nunn, Colo., led a herding demonstration using their border collies. In the arena at the Archer Complex, Bob used a whistle to communicate with his dog, Slick, where he wanted the cattle led. Maneuvering cattle isn't an easy feat, but Slick, who's no taller than 2 feet, ran around, behind and to the side of four steers and heifers to lead them around the arena.
The curiosity after the demonstration ranged from personal questions about the dogs (Slick is 3 years old), about training (they use voice and whistle commands to start, and then eventually stick to only whistle commands) and even if the dogs hurt the cattle when they nip at the heels to get the cattle to respond (it's really only a quick nip to get attention and respect).
Questions ranged from, "Are lambs related to sheep?" one kid asked at a livestock station.
Or, as Vercelli experienced, one kid thought goats ate anything that comes in their path.
"Especially in this day and age, we feel it's important to say, 'these are the facts, this is the truth,' " Vercelli said.
The kids were able to get close to the goats, sheep, pigs, chickens and cattle, all of which were in pens.
Maura Blazek, a member of 4-H and FFA, gave a lesson about pigs, she told the kids pigs are where bacon, sausage and ham come from.
Blazek raises pigs for 4-H. Some of the kids wondered if that stopped her from eating pork products.
"I've raised three pigs and that doesn't stop me from eating sausage," was her reply.
There were some confused looks, some of them never put together that the piglets they wanted to pet later become food.
"You see the light bulb go off that this comes from there and this is how it gets to my plate," Blazek said.
Blazek was one of the FFA volunteers who helped with the class groups and lessons. The help from the FFA was pivotal to the expo, according to Vercelli. There aren't enough Cowbelle members to run all the exhibits.
And the event is definitely an important one for members of the Cowbelles.
They start planning in the spring, with the focus on providing a lot of small lessons. They want to make sure the kids can leave the expo knowing more about the agriculture industry than they knew going in.
"It's fun. It's a lot of work, but we feel it is important to educate the kids," Vercelli said. ❖
— Fox is a reporter for The Fence Post. For story ideas, questions or comments, she can be reached at (970) 392-4410 or firstname.lastname@example.org. You can connect with her on Twitter @FoxonaFarm.