Louisiana youth learn magic of agriculture

Linda Benedict, Smith, Tara  |  9/28/2010 1:19:19 AM

Tara P. Smith

The LSU AgCenter’s research and educational outreach programs are an integral piece of Louisiana’s agricultural framework. Forest, crop and animal production supply countless jobs and economic opportunities for Louisiana, and both urban and rural communities benefit from the many agricultural commodities and industries that contribute to Louisiana’s economic development. Teaching the value of agriculture to both youth and adults is critical to the sustainability of agriculture in the state.

One way that the LSU AgCenter raises agricultural awareness is through 4-H programs and sponsored events – including local, district and state livestock shows and club meetings. In addition, five large agricultural awareness events take place each year. Several of these events sponsored by the AgCenter and partner agencies and organizations target children in kindergarten through fifth grade and are attended primarily by school group tours. Some of the events also are open to the general public. Each event is unique, but all have the common goal of educating youth about food and fiber crops produced in Louisiana.

AgCenter extension and research faculty design and participate in these youth development programs. In addition, numerous volunteers contribute countless hours. Each event features interactive areas where students experience agriculture first-hand. In addition to commodities, exhibits such as “Down on the Farm” are designed as enrichment opportunities to teach visitors about food production and safety.

Other exhibits, such as “Body Walk,” teach nutrition and health and are designed to combat childhood obesity. “Body Walk” is sponsored by the LSU AgCenter and Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana Foundation and is part of a comprehensive extension program known as “Smart Bodies.”

AgMagic is held each spring on the LSU AgCenter campus in Baton Rouge. AgMagic provides an opportunity for children and adults to understand how the products and food they use and consume every day are part of a larger agricultural system. 2010 marked the seventh year of AgMagic. Several interactive features of AgMagic include “Animals produce for you,” “Plant products,” “Farming the waters,” “The world of wonder,” “Bugs rule” and “Farm gate to dinner plate.” In 2009, AgMagic was introduced to the State Fair of Louisiana in Shreveport. In addition to guided school group tours, AgMagic at the State Fair was open during regular fair hours and offered a similar experience to AgMagic in Baton Rouge.

Similar youth-oriented agricultural experiences have evolved in other areas of the state. Ag Alley, which began in 2004, is held each January in West Monroe in conjunction with the Northeast Louisiana Agricultural Expo and focuses on the main crops of economic importance produced in northeast Louisiana. Past exhibits have featured cotton, corn, sweet potatoes, rice, poultry, horses, aquaculture, beef, water quality and the ever-popular 4-H Mini Farm. Ag Alley, which is sponsored by the North Louisiana Agribusiness Council, has grown in attendance each year and now reaches more than 1,000 visitors.

Northeast Louisiana also hosts Ag Adventures in Delhi. This program began in 2008 and incorporated some parishes that traditionally had not participated in Ag Alley. In 2010, more than 800 children attended this event, which since its inception has exposed visitors to livestock, horses, sweet potatoes, cotton, corn, vegetables, poultry and rice.

Southwest Louisiana also features an agricultural awareness event called Ag Adventures, which is held in conjunction with the LSU AgCenter Southwest Regional Livestock Show in Lake Charles. Similar to other events, this program focuses on crops, animals and products important in the local agricultural economy. In 2010, Ag Adventures included information on wetlands ecology, crawfish, proper diet, hand washing and horseback riding.

School teachers who bring their students to these events continue to express their gratitude over the value of the experience in helping children learn about science. For example, after attending Ag Adventures in Lake Charles, Debra Shamsie, a kindergarten teacher at Prien Lake Elementary School in Lake Charles, said, “Seeing it in pictures is nothing like real life. The students get to experience the actual animals. This is fantastic.”

The practical knowledge and real-world events are in some cases the children’s only exposure to a farm. R.L. Frazier, county agent in Madison Parish, explained to youngsters attending Ag Adventures in Delhi in 2010, “Milk and ice cream don’t magically appear on the shelf; they come from a dairy cow.”
 
“These events are helping young people appreciate how agriculture improves their quality of life each and every day, and this is the overall goal of agricultural awareness initiatives across the state,” said Paul Coreil, LSU AgCenter vice chancellor for extension. “Knowing where our abundant, safe and healthy food, clothing and lumber for homes come from is important to all Louisiana citizens, especially young people who will be the future leaders of Louisiana.”

Tara P. Smith, Extension Sweet Potato Specialist and Research Coordinator, Sweet Potato Research Station, Chase, La.

(This article was published in the summer 2010 issue of Louisiana Agriculture.)

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