June 6, 2008


Ag-Stravaganza highlights farming

Fourth-graders sample sights, sounds of farm life at fairgrounds


Joe McIntyre/staff photographer    
Small farms educator Fay Benson explains the connection between a single kernel of corn and corn on the cob to Julia Goddard of Kellie Maniaci’s fourth-grade Smith Elementary School class Thursday during an agricultural field day at the Cortland County Junior Fairgrounds. 

Staff Reporter

With chickens clucking nearby and a cow mooing on the other side of the barn, Kyle Agate, a fourth-grader at Parker Elementary School, plucked some grass outside the open door in the livestock barn Thursday morning at the Cortland County Junior Fairgrounds.
His teacher, Tom Vakkas, said his class had just finished units on nutrition and digestion and the plant unit was nearly finished — which could have explained why Agate could not tear himself away from the grass.
“He’s very interested in flowers and plants and seeds,” Vakkas explained.
As part of the 13th annual Ag-Stravaganza, put on by the Cornell Cooperative Extension of Cortland County, field crops specialist Janice Degni helped teach about 600 children about the grasses, legumes and grains that keep livestock producing the milk and meat for breakfasts, lunches and dinners.
Ag-Stravaganza was sponsored by the New York State Standardbred Horse Breeders and Racers Fund, which contributed a $500 grant, and a couple of hundred dollars came from the Cortland County Farm Bureau, said Cornell Cooperative Extension Livestock Specialist Heather Birdsall.
About 30 classes of fourth-graders from St. Mary’s School and the Homer, Marathon, Cincinnatus and city school districts attended the event Thursday and today.
Kyle Agate was trying to find the seeds inside the stalks of long grass outside the door, since Degni was explaining the differences between the varieties of grasses that farmers choose to plant in their fields for hay for their cows.
When Degni asked about the kinds of products that come from cows, one answered manure. But Degni used the attempt at humor to talk about the benefits of fertilizer to plants and the rest of us.
“The manure feeds the crops and the crops feed the cow,” Degni explained.
After her presentation, Degni invited the students to dig in to the haylage and silage and roughly chopped corn stalks and cobs and different grains.
At the station featuring dairy and meat goats next door, Barry Elementary School fourth-grade teacher Caroline Perks explained that she had told her students to use ample amounts of hand sanitizer after touching any animals — or anything else that was just a tad nasty — before moving on to the next station every half our.
“Especially since we’re eating lunch next,” Perks added with a laugh.
Her students lined up obediently to sanitize their hands after petting the goats, which Perks said ranked up there with the alpacas as far as likeability went.
Fourth-grader Brooke Champion said the goats were “really soft,” and that she prefers them to petting cats or dogs. Kersean Perry, another Barry Elementary fourth-grader, said he had tried goat meat before but was at a loss to describe what it tasted like (Perry said he also enjoyed the big noses on the pigs).
Kayla Todd, 17, of Locke gave the presentation on the handful of meat and dairy goats she had brought with her to the Ag-Stravaganza. She was one of several Cortland County 4-H members who Birdsall said volunteered at the event.
Todd answered questions and expounded on the feeding of the animals and their protection from predators such as coyotes, as well as de-horning, which keeps the dairy goats safe and healthy but prevents the South African Boer goats from properly regulating the temperatures in times of high heat.
“I want to be an agriculture teacher some day,” Todd said after the attention-getting horn had gone off, signaling the transition to the next station. “It’s just basic knowledge that I’ve been explaining all day. And their questions are funny sometimes.”


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