Fact: Each cow’s spots are unique, like a human’s fingerprints.
Fact: This fact did not get by third graders from across Fulton County, who learned it first-hand from Swanton dairy farmer Greg Clapp during Tuesday’s 13th Annual Ag Fest at the Fulton County Fairgrounds.
Rain and thunder did not deter the students, who spent the morning visiting nine individual stations that offered a hands-on education on a variety of topics. They were advised about safety hazards, given a lesson in water pollution, learned about soil and pork and bees, and got to pet an alpaca.
They also learned about various small animals brought by members of the Pettisville FFA chapter.
The yearly event is a way to get the county’s public, parochial, and home-schooled third graders out of the classroom setting and hip-deep into an active learning environment, said Amanda Podach, SWCD information specialist. The educational stations they visit follow Ohio academic content standards in order to fit the schools’ curricula.
“It is a favorite day. They always look forward to it and enjoy it every year,” Podach said. “This is also something the teachers really enjoy. They feel it’s great to get the kids out and hands-on, learning about agriculture.”
Hosted by the Fulton County Soil and Water Conservation District and funded by numerous area sponsors, the event was begun in 2004 by the SWCD and the local Farm Bureau. Participating students are given a free lunch and gifted with a commemorative T-shirt.
Podach said the downpour Tuesday morning was a first for the Ag Fest but the students, teachers, and event volunteers soldiered on.
“In 13 years, we’ve had rain, but the storm was new,” she said. “But every station was inside.”
During the presentation by Clapp, of Sandland Farms, which included a visit from Peaches the Cow, students also learned how often cows are milked each day – two to three times – and that they are fed a magnet that removes stray metal pieces from feed once it reaches their stomach. The students marveled at the large capsules the cows must swallow to aid with nutrition or for medicine when they’re sick.
Bill and Julie Verhelst, of Sunny Meade Alpacas in Swanton, brought along Boomerang, a six-year-old male who delighted students with its constant humming. The Verhelsts schooled the third graders in harvesting alpaca fur to make clothes, and demonstrated the process.
Julie Verhelst said Ag Fest is an exceptional program. “I think it’s really nice that kids can make that connection of where their clothing’s coming from, or their food – the milk they drink. It actually comes from an animal,” she said.
Even with a component of fun blended into each station, the students retain what they’re learning, she said. “It’s incredible the details they remember. I think they take away a lot of information.”
Kristen Zimmerman, a third grade teacher at St. Richard Catholic School in Swanton, said Ag Fest gives the students an opportunity to learn using all of their senses.
“I think this is a wonderful opportunity for Fulton County students to get a hands-on (experience) and knowledge in agriculture and conservation, especially for those students that may not have the chance to do so otherwise. The best way to learn is to get in there, hands-on,” she said.
Reach David J. Coehrs at 419-335-2010.