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Farm Fest fun

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CHICKEN: Oak Hill FFA member Sierra Bakehorn holds a chicken for a group of first graders to pet. The FFA students led first graders all throughout the animal exhibits, teaching them about the importance of agriculture.
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CHICKS: Oak Hill first graders take a peek at baby chicks. The students got to see and pet a variety of animals at the Farm Fest.

BY HEATHER COX - hcox@chronicle-tribune.com

MARION — Nearly 800 first graders from all over the county visited Farm Fest this week at the Grant County Fairgrounds, to learn more about agriculture in a hands-on, interactive way.

Eastbrook High School and Oak Hill High School Future Farmers of America (FFA) members teamed up with Purdue Extension and Farm Bureau Insurance to bring the interactive education experience to the elementary schools.

Schools were divided into smaller groups and were led throughout different animal and food exhibits by FFA members. Kevin Pluimer, an Eastbrook agriculture teacher, said the FFA students would explain to the first graders what the animal is, what it’s used for and how farmers use the animals to produce food.

Pluimer said the annual two-day event is important to make sure Grant County is educating children on local food sources.

“Even as rural as Grant County is with all the crop land and animals being raised here, we still have people in Grant County that do not understand where their food comes from,” Pluimer said. “... So it’s something we’ve gotta keep people understanding ... because the economy in Grant County and across the whole U.S. is based off of how well the agriculture business is doing. You can trace every job back to how it is affecting the agriculture field.”

Pluimer said first grade students have to learn about agriculture and farming as part of the state curriculum as well.  

Stephanie McCulley, a Purdue Extension educator, said not only is it a neat way to teach first graders, but it’s also a good way for Purdue Extension, FFA students and Farm Bureau to work together and produce something for the schools.

McCulley said her favorite part was watching the kids react to seeing certain farm animals for the first time.

“I just like watching the kids’ reactions to stuff, especially with the pigs they get so excited,” she said. “A lot of these kids have probably never seen animals like this besides a cat or a dog, so getting to see the excitement and learn everything, that’s probably my favorite part.”

From Pluimer’s perspective, he said he enjoys watching the FFA students step up and become the teachers. He said some of them had said they never wanted to do public speaking, but he considers becoming a tour guide and teaching the first graders just that.

“I can’t teach those types of skills in the classroom, they’re out here experiencing it, they’re learning a life skill,” he said.

One of Eastbrook’s FFA officers, Rose Nevil, said she was even learning alongside the first graders. 

Oak Hill FFA member, Sol O’Blenis, said he grew up around what they were teaching the first graders. Now, he’s able to turn around and pass on his knowledge to younger students.

“I think it’s super rewarding to see hard work from your family and yourself and being able to share that with others,” he said.

The first graders were able to see pigs, a goat with kids, a ewe with a lamb, a sheep shearing demonstration, a horse, dairy cow, beef cow and calf, geese, turkeys, a duck, different types of chickens and rabbits, a grain display, a combine and tractor and a display from the Grant County Stormwater Conservation District.