Farm Day fun in Suffolk

Published 9:55 pm Wednesday, October 30, 2019

About 500 second-graders from Suffolk Public Schools visited the Virginia Tech Tidewater Agricultural Research and Extension Center’s research farm in Suffolk on Oct. 17 for Farm Day.

This annual event brought together hundreds of students from Booker T. Washington, Creekside, Elephant’s Fork, Mack Benn Jr., Oakland, and Pioneer elementary schools. The Farm Day activities for Wednesday were rescheduled to a later date for another 500 students due to rain.

Farm Day featured roughly a dozen different learning stations at the facility that allowed students to learn more about agriculture in the region.

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“This gives them an opportunity to learn about the agricultural community that they live in,” said David Langston, director of Tidewater AREC. “They learn about the importance of the crops they see daily, and they gain an appreciation for them.”

The Virginia Soybean Association taught the children all about soybeans — when they’re planted, how they grow, how they’re harvested and all the different uses for the bean.

Another activity showed the kids how soybeans germinate. One station had them make “grain art” using soybeans, as well as corn, peanuts and wheat.

In one exercise they made their own delicious “dirt,” with crushed Nilla Wafers for bedrock, pudding for subsoil, crushed Oreos for top soil and sprinkles, gummy bears and peanuts for “bugs.” These were served in plastic cups that filled the tent with sweet smells.

“I think they’re enjoying it,” said Mary Griffith, a second-grade teacher at Oakland Elementary School. “As one kid said, they think it’s ‘the best dirt ever.’”

Children gathered around one demonstration of a cow getting milked, a regular delight for the kids, year in and year out.

One new addition to Farm Day this year was an in-depth look at pigs provided by Smithfield Foods, with two different activities at their booth.

“The first one is the ‘pig puzzle,’” said Alyssa Hamill, corporate sustainability specialist with Smithfield Foods. “The kids get to learn all the different pork products that they eat (and) where on the pig it comes from.

“It’s just a way for the kids to learn and see where their food is coming from. Not just from a package in a store — it’s coming from a real animal.”

The second activity was called “everything but the oink,” a saying at Smithfield because they use every part of the pig, she said. They learned how even things like crayons and paint brushes use pig material.

“They get to learn about all the different parts of a pig and not just the parts that they eat,” she said.

They also learned about the different medical ways that pigs are used, and some of the children even held a pig’s heart in their own hands.

“Doctors will use pig hearts to practice on. They use pig lungs and trachea and things like that to practice on before human surgeries,” she said.

Children got to see a few live swine, along with some smaller, more exotic things that crawled in their containers at the insect table. This table featured a tarantula and a display of numerous other creatures. Some of the braver children even held a Madagascar hissing cockroach.

There were also plenty of miniature horses, donkeys, cows, goats and more animals brought to the event by the Teeny Tiny Farm traveling petting zoo.

“The petting zoo is really great because it gives them the experience to see and touch animals that they probably wouldn’t get to touch (otherwise),” said Bobbi Schuermann, a second-grade teacher at Oakland Elementary School.

One of the best things about Farm Day is that it gives her students exposure to things that they normally wouldn’t get to experience.

“They get to see it in the fields, but now they get to actually learn what’s growing in those fields,” she said.