Students experience agriculture

Published 10:35 pm Wednesday, November 10, 2010

A group of second-grade students from Hillpoint Elementary School learn how cotton is grown, harvested and made into commercial products at the Agricultural Extravaganza on Wednesday.

Agriculture and farming have always been a large part of Suffolk’s history and economics.

But, many of the city’s youngest generation have little understanding of what lies beyond their neighborhoods.

On Tuesday and Wednesday, the 1,100-plus second graders in Suffolk Public Schools got a glimpse at what goes on in Suffolk fields and farms during the sixth annual Agricultural Extravaganza hosted by the Peanut Soil and Water Conversation District and the Virginia Tech Research Center.

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“There are so many kids today who have no idea what goes on at a farm,” said Tara Williams, district manager for the conservation district. “We want to make sure they’re given the chance to learn about what goes on and have a hands-on opportunity to be exposed to things. It’s great for them to learn about it and why it’s important.”

For some students it truly was their first time on a farm.

For Marcus Green, a second grader at Northern Shores Elementary, it was his second visit to a farm. His first time was when he visited the Agricultural Extravaganza with his older brother’s class.

“It’s fun,” Marcus said. “I learned to take care of my soybean by giving it air and love, too. And, to give it sun and water.”

Other students were more familiar with their surroundings, but were able to relate to stories from their parents.

“My dad grew up on a farm,” said Makayla Weidenhoefg, a second-grader at Kilby Shores. “He likes the farm and to hunt. I learned more about the farm and the deer and the wildlife. I learned how soybeans can be made into gas and different gasses and how peanuts can make lots of different things. But, my favorite part was messing with the pigs.”

Throughout the day, students visited several workshops around the premises of the research center. Each workshop was hosted by an area organization or business including the Farm Service Agency, Virginia Department of Forestry, Virginia Farm Bureau and the Virginia Cooperative Extension Agency.

Students learned about wildlife, peanuts, cotton, soil, weather and products made from local crops.

A favorite station of many students was where they learned about the germination of the soybean. Students received a yarn necklace with a soybean and moist paper towel inside a zippered plastic bag.

“We learned about keeping it warm so it can grow,” said Madison Kenyon, a second grader from Northern Shores Elementary School, as she pulled out her soybean from inside her coat. “When I go home, I’ll put it under my pillow to keep it warm. And, you can’t wear it in the shower because it will be too much water.”

Students also had the opportunity to walk through a “soil tunnel.” They passed by the top of cotton and cabbage plants and then went underneath to see the root system.

“Soil is the background for everything from plants to crops,” said Jim Wright, a retiree of the Natural Resource Conversation Service. “We want to teach the students about the importance of well-drained versus poor-drained soil and hopefully they’ll go home and tell their parents what they learned.”

Not only did the students learn about soil, but also they were excited to eat it, too.

“The Oreos are the top soil, the sprinkles are micro-organisms and these are the worms,” said Anja Shepherd, a second-grader at Hillpoint Elementary, as she was eating the top of her project. “It’s not real dirt, though. It’s good.”

While the day seemed to be all fun and games, teachers were excited to capitalize on the many learning opportunities.

“A lot of students don’t get to get in and see the agriculture,” said Kristal Taylor, a teacher at Mack Benn Jr. Elementary School. “This brings their learning to life and gives them hands-on experience when we’re talking about harvest and crops. It helps them make a connection.”