Farm Day impresses second-graders

Published 9:53 pm Monday, October 15, 2018

Second-graders enjoyed time out of their classroom for hands-on Farm Day lessons at the Virginia Tech Tidewater Agricultural Research and Extension Center on Hare Road. More than 1,000 second-graders visited the center on Oct. 10-11 to get a better understanding of their agricultural lessons.

Funded by the Suffolk Education Foundation and Birdsong Peanuts, Farm Day started 19 years ago in Isle of Wight and Surry counties. This is the 16th year Suffolk schools have participated, according to Tara Williams, district manager of the Peanut, Soil and Water Conservation District in Smithfield.

Williams started organizing the event locally to teach children about natural resources with the help of agencies such as the Virginia Department of Forestry, the USDA Farm Service Agency and other organizations for outdoor learning exercises.

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“It takes a village to get through these two days, but it’s a great event for sure,” Williams said.

Second-graders from Florence Bowser, Hillpoint, Kilby Shores, Nansemond Parkway, and Northern Shores Elementary Schools arrived by bus last Wednesday. Students from Booker T. Washington, Creekside, Elephant’s Fork, Mack Benn Jr., Oakland and Pioneer elementary schools were set to visit on Thursday, but the storm canceled the event. It has been rescheduled for Nov. 13, according to Suffolk Public Schools division spokeswoman Bethanne Bradshaw.

Many of the students hadn’t been on a farm before, Williams said, which made it an exciting opportunity for lasting impressions. That started with Southland Dairy Farmers mobile classroom instructor LaVaun Janney demonstrating how to milk a cow, in this case a big, brown and docile bovine named Ms. Violet.

“It’s a great opportunity for them to see our natural resources,” Williams said.

The Tidewater AREC is one of 11 agricultural research and Extension centers that the Virginia Agricultural Experiment Station operates throughout the state to research food and fiber systems and their impact on the environment, according to

The ARECs also serve as field laboratories for VT undergraduate and graduate students, plus field day programs for school groups and more.

“They get to see what the growers in the local farming community are actually producing,” said Tidewater AREC Director David Langston, including corn, soybeans, cotton and peanuts.

The second-graders rotated between stations on Wednesday, such as VT Assistant Professor and Field Crop Agronomist Hunter Frame explaining how cotton is processed and utilized for everyday clothing.

“I’m actually interested myself,” said Crystal Jacobs, one of the chaperones with Northern Shores Elementary School on Wednesday. “Even as a parent, I’m learning things.”

The children got to put soybeans inside moist cotton balls, then place the balls inside plastic bags to take them home and watch them germinate. They even got to make cups of “edible soil” with vanilla wafer bedrock, chocolate pudding sub-soil and organisms of sprinkles and gummy worms underneath topsoil of crushed Oreos.

There were also demonstrations that tied back to their studies. Research Specialist Linda Byrd-Masters, for instance, explained to the second-graders how barometers, rain gauges and anemometers were used at her “weather station.”

“I’m pretty sure these three instruments are going to be on your SOLs, so let’s go over it one more time,” Byrd-Masters told the children.

The Teeny Tiny Farm’s Jim Johnson brought a petting zoo with goats, cows, ponies and llamas that immediately got the students’ attention.

“I want to be a farmer when I grow up,” said Ryan Smith, 7. “It’s nice petting animals, and I bet it would be nicer making corn and feeding them the corn.”

Other second-graders were intrigued by the Department of Entomology’s station, where they learned about the life cycles of insects while getting a closer look at some more exotic specimens.

“I think they’re loving it,” said Kilby Shores second-grade teacher Parker Baines as her students held bugs while gasping and giggling. “They’re very engaged. Some of them have never seen bugs like this.”

They took turns holding Madagascar hissing cockroaches, each one crawling from their palms to the backside of their hands, using the slightest grip from their legs. VT Entomologist Sally Taylor explained that the experience is different from your typical petting zoo.

“They’ve petted a goat before, but they probably haven’t petted a cockroach,” Taylor said.