Students learn about life on the farm, ranch
Local participants in ag pen pal program.
Teaghan, from Pinewood Elementary in Omaha, now knows that grain left over from harvest is given to cows.
Brynn, who is Teaghan’s classmate, learned that “just born” cows can stand up fast.
These are just a couple of responses from the urban elementary students that Page and Karen Peterson and their family of Gothenburg corresponded with this past year.
The Petersons participated in the Ag Pen Pal program offered through Nebraska Agriculture in the Classroom.
One of their sons, fifth grader Evan Peterson, said he wanted to share his family’s story so “they know what a farm is really like and I like to learn what it is like to live in a city.”
The kids who learn about farming also share about their lives in more populated areas.
Evan snapped and sent pictures so his pen pals could understand what the Petersons meant in their correspondence.
For example, he took pictures of them unloading corn from a grain bin and hauling it to Frito Lay and told them “this corn could be the bag of Doritos that they just ate.”
Son Patrick, a seventh grader, enjoyed showing the third graders “how we take good care of our cattle and pigs.”
We take care of them like our mom takes care of us,” he said.
Karen said the family participated because they feel it’s important to tell the story of ag production.
“So that people know where their Runza hamburger came from and their loaf of bread,” she said.
She said they usually enclose a type of educational material, photos or grain sample.
Once, the Petersons sent what they feed to market beef which consisted of bags of ground hay, silage, cracked corn and wet distillers grains.
“We also sent yellow corn, white corn, soybeans and a bag of wheat for grain production examples and sent recipes for their mothers before Thanksgiving for pork and beef menus,” she said.
Other comments from students sent from the Omaha teacher included “Cows are a lot of work,” and “When you wake up in the morning, you start work and go to bed at night when you are done.”
Ivy thanked the Petersons for the “food you give us” while Kayde noted that “we have a watering system on our farm like you.”
Jo Anderson, who is on the ag promotion committee of the Nebraska Farm Bureau, recruits farm and ranch families to participate in the program.
“We want to educate these young people about where their food comes from and who the people are that raise it, especially since the media today is not presenting farmers in a very positive fashion,” Anderson said. “We must reach these impressionable youth before the media does.”
This past year, she said 251 classrooms across the state participated with Dawson County having the highest number of farm and ranch participants.
When the program first began, Anderson said Lincoln and Omaha students were involved because they were the most urban.
Since then, classrooms across the state take part in the program.
Anderson has corresponded with a classroom in Ralston for about six years and this year, added a teacher from Bellevue.
Each year, she e-mails notes about farm and ranch work such as rounding up cattle, calving, planting and harvesting.
She also created a CD of pictures taken on the farm that she sends as well as magazine articles that might interest students.
“ I don’t think they have any idea of how much computers are used in tractors these days so I show them pictures of the inside of a tractor cab and send articles on weather and its effect on farmers,” Anderson said. “I wish we could have them visit us but distance is too much of a factor.”
Nonethless, she encourages students to visit farm relatives and places like commercial pumpkin patches.
Anderson had her first face-to-face visits this past year.
“The kids were so excited to see a real farmer but their questions were usually limited to ‘Do you have a horse, rabbits, a dog, cats?’ and ‘Do you like living on a farm?’ ”
The youngsters, Anderson said, had no concept of a cow herd and probably related better to pigs—perhaps because of their use in storybooks. They also had no concept of row crop farming.
“Most do not even have gardens and when they think of us growing corn, they think it comes from a can and not for cattle, hogs, and chickens,” she explained, noting that the students visualized farm elevators as department store elevators.
Anderson said she tried to explain that farm life in Gothenburg centers around corn, both as crop to sell and to feed livestock.
“Our whole state depends on corn,” she said.
For Anderson, the program has helped her simplify explanations of farming and how it is done.
“For instance, why do we call our harvesting machine a combine?” she asked. “I think it’s because it combines so many different operations such as picking the corn from the stalk and shelling it from the cob.”
If producers want people to know what they do, Anderson said they need to explain what the words mean in farming.
She noted that animal rights organizations like the Humane Society of the United States would like to change the role of animals by giving them legal rights, restricting farming practices and reducing food choices to only vegetarian items.
The organization is not affiliated with local humane societies but is anti-agriculture, she said.
Anderson wants to correspond with kids in the city to make sure they know farmers are real people.
“More than 98% of our food is grown on family farms and the kids like to know those people,” she explained. “We want these kids to know how the weather can make or break us, how world politics affect our prices and input availability and what we talk about at our supper tables.”
Ag is also not just production farming, she said, noting that ag pen pals can have jobs vital to the food supply without ever stepping foot on a farm.
“They can’t believe it when I tell them that a scientist developing a food ration for animals so that their poop doesn’t stink would be a hero to all animal raisers. Probably a millionaire also.”
Anderson told them that biologists, engineers, bankers, truckers and many others are needed to keep the food supply moving and safe, clean and efficient.
“Food is what unites us,” Anderson said.
More farmers and ranchers are needed to join the program to tell city-based children about daily routines.
More teachers are also needed to share those letters in their classrooms and incorporate ag into their curriculum.
The program, through Ag in the Classroom, can be accessed through the website.