Learning agriculture

Lots of phone calls in organizing Ag in the Classroom

Photo by Jody Isaackson Beef Ambassadors Tyler Goplen and Marissa Hansen represented the Midwest Cattlemen’s Association as exhibitors at the Ag in the Classroom event held in Granite Falls Wednesday and Thursday. The two are juniors at Canby High School.

GRANITE FALLS — Yellow Medicine East FFA members in red club T-shirts helped Ag in the Classroom organizers Carl Louwagie and Roger Dale direct 342 fourth graders through nine learning stations at the annual Ag in the Classroom held in Granite Falls Wednesday and Thursday.

“This year there are nine exhibitors who have come consistently from year to year,” Dale said and listed them. “Paul Kvistad and family are here with a turkey exhibit. Jonathan and Carolyn Olson have the pork exhibit. Jamie and Becky Remiger with dairy. The Yellow Medicine County (YMC) Soybean Growers have the soybean exhibit.

“YMC Farm Bureau President Gene Stengel and YMC Farm Bureau members along with members from Lac qui Parle have a display. Doug Albin is here with the Corn Growers,” Dale said. “Mark Johnson is here representing the REC (electric company in Montevideo). Tyler Knutson is here with the Soil Conservation Services.”

Also with an exhibit were two Canby High School juniors representing the Midwest Cattlemen’s Association. The beef ambassadors were Marissa Hansen and Tyler Goplen, who were well-versed on several breeds of beef cow and the varieties of meats they provide for our tables.

The main sponsors of the event were the YMC Soybean Growers Association, YMC Corn Growers Association and the YMC Farm Bureau who provided funding for the T-shirts the students were given.

“Ron Fagen also donated toward the milk and cookies for break,” Dale said. “It’s all volunteer work and donations. There is no charge to the schools who attend.”

While Dale and Louwagie do a lot of their planning and preparing on the telephone throughout the year, they had a lot of help. Both men gave a lot of credit to each other and a Bert Raney (Granite Falls elementary) teacher for helping with the record keeping.

“We use the telephone a lot,” Dale said. “I couldn’t ask for a better guy than Carl. We think a lot alike. I stepped down this year. I’m just Carl’s shadow, now. When I bow out completely, I know it’s going to be in good hands. We are fortunate to have teacher Liz DeBlieck who keeps all the information in her computer and does all the communications with the schools.”

“I did most of the calling (exhibitors) and Roger contacted the media,” Louwagie said, also crediting DeBlieck for her contribution.

“What I like about Ag in the Classroom is that we have high school presenters to retired farmers and all in between,” Louwagie said. “Obviously, they think there’s value to it or they wouldn’t be here.”

Dale produced an evaluation form that attendees complete before leaving the event. Almost every one of them say it was an educational event that they want to repeat next year.

“When we pass out milk and cookies, we often get thank-yous from the students,” Dale said. “Sometimes we get cards from the schools with the students’ signatures on them. A ‘thank-you’ goes a long way.”

“It’s just nice that the schools know it will be here again next year so that they can plan accordingly,” Louwagie said.

“We start planning a year in advance so that they have those dates,” Dale said. “We will be here again next year on Tuesday, March 12, and Wednesday, March 13, 2019, with Thursday, March 14, as a snow date.”

This year’s first day had been snowed out and was able to be rescheduled for Thursday.

“It’s hard enough to get the exhibitors here for two days,” Dale said. “Expanding to three would be even tougher. This time of year works, though, because the facility is available due to spring break.”

Ag in the Classroom has been held at the Minnesota West Community and Technical College for several years now but had its roots in a small soybean exhibit Dale and his wife, Joanne, put on for the Hanley Falls Elevator years ago.

“Lakeview teacher Darles Schwartz (Lamfers) saw the display and asked us to bring it to her classroom at Lakeview,” Dale said. “The next year, she asked us to give a talk with it. Then the Yellow Medicine County Corn Growers got involved, and we started putting on the display at the old gym in Clarkfield. Carl came on board and it mushroomed from there.”

The two organizers have really enjoyed being able to share the origins of food with kids who don’t always have a clue where their meals come from.

“I don’t think people realize how important agriculture is to our towns,” Louwagie said.

“People keep telling us we have to keep going,” Dale said. “We have city cousins who need to buy our products and we need them to furnish us with our imports. It’s a partnership, but most people don’t look at it that way.

“We tell the kids we eat the same food and drink the same water, so we’re concerned about pollution, too,” he said. “Our livestock people tell how caring they are to their livestock; they don’t abuse them.”

Louwagie’s goal for the future is to maintain the program as is, saying there is no room for further expansion. They already draw from three counties. However, he is willing to help other counties get their own ag in the classroom events going.

Dale and Louwagie are also grateful to the community and technical college for opening its doors to the program and to all the organizations and individuals that help make the event successful.