For the first time this year, a UW research and extension center hosted Goshen County’s annual agricultural exposition, which introduces Platte and Goshen County fourth graders to agriculture and natural resources.
In the past, the UW James C. Hageman Sustainable Agriculture Research and Extension Center (SAREC) near Lingle organized fourth grade class tours in September, which included a field stop where students had a chance to dig up their own bag of potatoes. “We thought it would be the perfect combination of learning opportunities to combine the ag expo and the potato dig into a full day of exposing students to agriculture,” says Steve Paisley, director of SAREC.
“Even though we’re in one of the top agricultural counties of the whole state, it’s amazing how many kids haven’t dug up a potato, or pet a calf, or even know where potatoes come from,” adds Kelly Greenwald, administrative assistant at SAREC and one of the main organizers of the event. “Our desire was to physically get the students out of the classroom and into the field.”
The Goshen County ag expo was last held in 2019 at the Goshen County Fairgrounds. In past years, this event was organized by the Goshen County conservation districts and the Goshen CattleWomen. This year, volunteers from the National Resources Conservation Service, the CattleWomen, the conservation districts, Goshen County Extension, the community, and UW faculty helped SAREC put on the expo.
One of the teachers, Katrina Gifford from LaGrange Elementary, attended the expo when she was in fourth grade herself. She found that this version of the event was more hands on and more applicable for students who didn’t have much experience with agriculture.
During the expo, fourth graders walked around different stations, where various experts from around the state gave hands-on demonstrations of agricultural production, from catching bugs at the entomology station to watching a branding demonstration on wood.
“I think another benefit to it is maybe potentially get them excited about science or potential career paths,” says Greenwald. “You never know when you might turn that lightbulb on for a little person.”
At the agronomy station, kids got to learn a little more about the lifecycle of common plants and their byproducts, such as peanuts and peanut butter or cotton and cotton balls. Gifford’s students were particularly amazed that the kind of sugar you find in the store can be made from sugar beets. “That was a big hit,” says Gifford. “Everyone just wants to eat sugar beets now.”
Tennille Grosz, a teacher from Southeast Elementary in Yoder, has found that her classroom lit up after attending the expo this fall. “They’ve been asking a lot of questions about the soil and what kind of crops to grow during our Oregon Trail unit,” she says. “A couple of my little guys put together a little business plan, they’re growing potatoes within the home now—they want to be potato farmers!”
Gifford says that her students report recognizing natural resources that they learned about at the ag expo around town or when they travel. In particular, they’re noticing corn fields and sugar beets in a new way.
Fourth grade has historically been the focus of the Wyoming Agriculture in the Classroom organization, which offers free curricular resources that give youth opportunities to explore agriculture and natural resources. Both Grosz and Gifford emphasized how well-timed and well-planned the event was. Grosz comments, “It’s a great jumping off spot for everything they’re learning this year.”
Meanwhile, Greenwald is already thinking about next year. “I’m looking forward to tweaking it a bit, getting next year’s fourth years out here and giving them a good experience,” she says. “I’m just excited to keep it going.”