MARSHALL - It's not often you get a chance to play in the dirt on a school day. As students from Minneota Elementary gathered around small patches of turf dug up on the edge of the Lyon County fairgrounds, presenters Doug Miller and Lance Smith handed out small chunks of soil and encouraged the kids to take a sniff.
"What's that smell like?" Smith asked.
"That smells like some good soil," Trey Gronke answered. Picking up a different sample, he tried again. "This one smells like nothing."
"Do you think that's healthy soil?" Smith asked. The class called out, "No."
They were right - Miller said the "dirt" smell comes from bacteria that help make good, fertile soil. The lesson was all part of a session on soil science at the 2013 Environmental Fair. Using a contraption that simulated rainfall on bare earth and a patch of grass, Miller also showed students how plant growth helps to keep soil from washing away.
A total of 35 schools from around southwest Minnesota attended the Environmental Fair in Marshall on Tuesday and Wednesday. Kids got a chance to do some hands-on learning on topics ranging from water conservation and recycling to prairie ecology.
Not far from where the Minneota students were learning about the creatures that live in Minnesota lakes and rivers. A U.S. Fish and Wildlife fisheries truck carried plenty of examples that presenter Gene Jeseritz showed to a group of fifth- grade students from E.C.H.O. Charter School. A snapping turtle was a big favorite, but the kids came away with lots of facts about fish and fishing, too.
"We learned you don't always have to throw back the smaller fish you get," said Jesse Moseng. Keeping only the biggest fish means there will be fewer big fish to catch, he said.
"And bullheads don't have stingers, they have barbs," added Tony Berthelsen.
The E.C.H.O. students said they enjoyed getting to see the fish. Gronke said his favorite station was, "so far, probably the soil stuff."
Presenters at the fair said they hoped kids would learn as well as have fun at the event. Sharon Root, of the Lyon County Environmental Office, said it was important to encourage young people to take an interest in science and the environment. Learning to take care of the earth is an important job, she told students.
"It's going to affect your future," she said.