Teaching youth about agriculture

For twenty-two consecutive years third graders from throughout Washtenaw County have had the opportunity to participate in Rural Education Days or Project RED, as it is better known.

From the time Project RED was created in Washtenaw County in 1991, more than 49,250 third graders, plus their teachers and parent chaperones have learned more about Michigan agriculture and natural resources. To accommodate all the students, Washtenaw’s Project RED offers six identical programs over three days. Each program begins with “A Walk through Michigan Commodities” as 4-H and FFA teens share facts on agricultural products produced in various areas of Michigan as they move around the outline of the state.

At the conclusion of the general session the classes rotate around to five different sessions. These include Dairy … From Moo to You; Growing Corn; Farm Animals; What’s Up with Water and the Commodity Showcase featuring samples of ten different agricultural products, ranging from ice cream to dried cherries to popcorn. In the showcase they also learned about wool spinning and healthy eating.

Farmers and FFA members quickly get the attention of the students and adults during the Growing Corn session when they are surrounded by a combine, tractor, chopper, wagon and corn planter. During the presentation each piece of equipment is referred to and the participants learn how it is used. The sign on each piece of equipment provides information on how much that piece of equipment costs and compares the cost to the number of cars that could be purchased for the same price. Many of the third graders are amazed to learn how land is prepared for planting, how the corn is planted, how it grows and then the many uses of corn. At the end of the presentation the kids are invited to look at and touch various products, ranging from silage to shelled corn to packing peanuts to corn flakes.

As students were preparing to load buses at the end of the program they were eager to share their new knowledge about where their food comes from, what a cow eats, how big the equipment is and the large number of agricultural products produced in Michigan. For many students it was their first opportunity to learn about and pet a pig, lamb, goat, dairy calf, horse, steer, llama, baby chick and rabbit as well as watch baby chicks being hatched. Past program evaluations have shown that 95 percent of the students have increased their knowledge of agriculture and natural resources, as well as their knowledge of where their food comes from.

Agriculture education programs would not be possible without the assistance of outstanding and dedicated volunteers, clubs, local families, organizations and businesses that provide knowledge, animals, equipment, products and donations. Programs such as Project RED offer great opportunities for several organizations to provide volunteers and to work together on the common goal of educating youth and adults about agriculture and natural resources.

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