(01/29/18) WEST MONROE, La. — Visitors found loads of interactive exhibits awaiting them at LSU AgCenter Square, a dynamic feature of the North Louisiana Agri-Business Council Ag Expo held Jan. 19-20 at the Ike Hamilton Expo Center in West Monroe.
“Agriculture is a major economic driver in north Louisiana, so it is important to remind everyone about how our food and fiber get from the farm to the home,” said Richard Letlow, AgCenter agent in Morehouse parish and coordinator of the outreach effort.
Inclement weather, which brought snow and ice to the area earlier in the week, caused the cancellation of Ag Alley, a two-day school-based event held before the public show that draws about 1,700 first- and fourth-graders annually, Letlow said.
AgCenter regional 4-H coordinator Terri Crawford said plans are underway to make educational materials for about 2,000 students available to teachers who registered for the school-day visits to Ag Alley this year.
“Ag Awareness events are a key component of our 4-H and youth development programs in the Northeast Region,” said AgCenter regional director Tara Smith.
“Ag Expo is a great venue to reach youth throughout the region, and we value the cooperative relationship we have with the North Louisiana Agri-Business Council to offer this program annually,” she said.
Despite the weather challenges, all AgCenter exhibits, including the crowd-favorite 4-H Mini-Farm, were set up and ready go for the Ag Expo opening.
A huge hit in AgCenter Square this year was The Kid Zone, a kid-friendly attraction with four interactive games geared to promote health and exercise.
Youngsters could pedal a spin-art bike and create a work of art, string together colorful beads to make a MyPlate bracelet, “milk” Louella the wooden cow and learn about the importance of dairy foods, and pick apples and oranges from make-believe trees to practice math skills.
The Kid Zone offered a safe environment for children to have fun while learning more about agriculture, nutrition and health. “Regional 4-H Teen Leader Board volunteers and agents worked nonstop to keep up with the lines of kids wanting to do the many activities being offered,” Crawford said.
Families flocked to the mini-farm, which showcased a host of different animals, including a commercial beef cow, a dairy cow, breeding rabbits, goats, pigs, a lamb, a gelding horse and a coop filled with ducks, geese and chickens.
AgCenter 4-H agent Brandon Reeder said the mini-farm offers youth a chance for real-world, hands-on learning. “Children, especially city kids, don’t often have a chance to inspect farm animals up-close and learn about their care and feeding,” he said.
The baby chicks are always the most popular exhibit in the mini-farm because children are allowed handle the chicks under supervision and ask questions, Reeder said.
LSU AgCenter agents and volunteers worked together to feature four agricultural commodity-based exhibits focusing on cotton production, horticulture, beekeeping and corn.
Nutrition experts were available to answer questions on nutrition, food safety and budgeting and offer a variety of publications and other incentives designed to encourage families to make healthier decisions.
Guests to the cotton alley could see a wide assortment of food and textile product examples and learn about cotton production from seed through various stages of production.
“People don’t often think of cotton as a food product,” said AgCenter agent Dennis Burns, adding that products containing cottonseed oil are often labeled as vegetable oil.
Cottonseed meal, hulls and pellets were also displayed to show how cotton products provide protein and fiber as supplemental livestock feed.
Volunteers with the Hill Country Beekeepers Association set up the beekeeping exhibit and were on hand to talk with visitors about how to keep their beehives healthy and productive. Demonstrations on the different kinds of hives as well as a number of tools and safety equipment were ongoing throughout the event.
Digging for sweet potatoes was one of the big attractions in the horticulture alley, where a large box filled with topsoil and potatoes kept both children and adults busy.
“The digging box is designed to teach how potatoes and other root vegetables are grown,” said Jennifer Ates, a volunteer with the D’Arbonne Hills Master Gardeners.
The Master Gardener group sponsored the exhibit that showcased a variety of vegetables for the home garden, fruit trees, succulents and landscape ornamentals.
LSU AgCenter area nutrition agent Saundra Raines answers questions for a visitor at the AgCenter display at the Ag Expo in West Monroe. Photo by Johnny Morgan/LSU
A young visitor digs for sweet potatoes in the horticulture alley in the LSU AgCenter display at the Ag Expo in West Monroe. Photo by Karol Osborne/LSU AgCenter