GRANITE FALLS - Back in the late 1980s, Roger and Joanne Dale were asked to give a presentation on soybeans to a classroom full of students at Cottonwood. Two years later, Doug Albin came along to talk to students about corn as well.
When more and more school visit requests kept coming in, Dale and Albin knew they had to come up with a better way to teach Minnesota students about agriculture. So for roughly 25 years, Roger Dale, Doug Albin and various Yellow Medicine County volunteers, including early volunteers Lon Moon and Don Louwagie, have been promoting agricultural education by hosting an annual Ag in the Classroom event for students in the area.
"We used to go into classrooms and talk about soybeans and corn," Dale said. "We went to all the schools in Yellow Medicine County and around Marshall, but that got to be too much. So from there, we decided to have it in one location. Clarkfield said we could do it there, so we got all these presenters together, and it's been going on ever since."
Photo by Jenny Kirk
Paul Kvistad, left, spoke about raising turkeys to hundreds of students at the 2014 Ag in the Classroom event Tuesday and Wednesday in Granite Falls.
Because of a blizzard last year, the 2013 Ag in the Classroom event was canceled. But those kids who missed out last year were not forgotten, Dale said. They were invited to attend this year, which marked the first time at a new location, Minnesota West Community and Technical College, and the first time the event was held during a two-day span.
"We'll have in the vicinity of 470 kids, plus homeschoolers," said Dale, who is the event co-chairman along with Carl Louwagie. "We were going to be here at Minnesota West last year, but it got stormed out."
Dawson-Boyd, Samuel Lutheran School, St. Edward's, Minneota, Marshall Area Christian School and Lynd Elementary students were among more than 240 present on Tuesday. Canby, both public and parochial school students, Yellow Medicine East, Clarkfield Charter School and homeschooled students attended the educational event on Wednesday.
"The reason we're having two days this year is because we had a blizzard last year," Dale said. "So instead of forgetting those kids from last year, they're here this year, too. We're having fourth- and fifth-graders. A couple of schools are bringing their third-graders, too. That way nobody gets left out."
Students rotated around nine different stations at this year's Ag in the Classroom, learning about farm safety, electricity, turkeys, soybeans, corn, beef, dairy, pork and conservation.
"I like the farming presentation, like the beans," said Anna Brusven of Cottonwood. "We learned that you can make a lot of things out of the beans, like cereal and other stuff."
After students left on Tuesday, Louwagie took time to evaluate the day.
"I thought it went well," Louwagie said. "It looked like the kids were really attentive. Being in southwest Minnesota, everybody is so close to agriculture, but they don't necessarily know what goes on in the trenches or how their food gets to the table. So it's good for kids to learn about that."
Dale is passionate about teaching students about where their food comes from but also that farmers are very caring people.
"Farmers don't abuse livestock or abuse the land," he said. "We get a bad rap by some of these environmental groups, and we don't have it coming. We drink the same water and eat the same food they do, so we try to be very conscientious about how we treat our land and livestock."
While some presenters, like Carolyn Olson (pork), Albin (corn), Steve Brusven (soybeans) and Jane Remiger (dairy), continue to volunteer every year, some presenters have hopped on board more recently. Wood Lake turkey farmers Jamie and Paul Kvistad have been attending the event for the past five years.
"I enjoy the kids' reactions and their questions the most," Jamie Kvistad said.
Kvistad said she and her husband Paul enjoy letting the students know about the background of turkeys.
Seven years ago, the Kvistads took over the farm completely and operate it with their three sons, Hunter, Payton and Brock.
Kvistad said students are typically amazed at the number of turkeys they can raise in a year and are surprised that they just raise hens.
Two years ago as a fifth-grader, Payton Kvistad gave the presentation to students attending Ag in the Classroom.
"Payton loved giving the presentation," Jamie Kvistad said. "It was such a learning experience for him. He's very interested in the turkeys and with our crops, too. He thrives on it."
On Tuesday, Paul Kvistad explained to the students about the process of raising turkeys.
"We get 40,000 hen turkeys at a time, and they're brought to our farm on the same day that they hatch," he said. "For four to five weeks, the poults stay in warm brooder barns. Then we move them to the finisher barn until they go to market."
When asked by a student, Kvistad pointed out that tom turkeys typically take 21 weeks to get up to 45 pounds.
"I liked learning about the turkeys," Marshall Area Christian School fourth-grader Abigail Starkenburg said. "I also liked learning about the dairy stuff. It was about how to take care of them and stuff like that."
Starkenburg's classmate Eden Knudson also enjoyed learning throughout the day.
"I learned that they try not to touch the milk when they're done milking," she said. "They try to keep it as clean as possible. And I really liked when we went to the turkey, electricity and farm safety things. It's kind of interesting to learn about that, especially since my grandpa works on a farm."
The REC station, presented by Bob Walsh, Minnesota Valley Cooperative Light and Power Association member service manager, was new this year.
"I really liked the electricity session because we just learned about electricity in science," Knudson said. "I learned that you don't touch a car that has some lines on it and don't touch the ground around it or you'll get electrocuted."
Walsh demonstrated how electricity flows, including the use of conductors.
"It's really rewarding as teacher to know that they remember the information we talked about in class," MACS fourth-grade teacher Karen DeGraaf said after hearing so many of her students recall information they discussed at school.
Education and safety are two of the biggest themes that run through stations during Ag and the Classroom. No one wanted to stress the importance of safety more than Yellow Medicine Farm Bureau president Gene Stengel and secretary/treasurer Dave Craigmile.
"Farming is one of the most dangerous occupations, next to mining," Stengel said. "And we just lost our director, Richard Rosetter on February 3 of this year. We were unloading bins, helping him and unfortunately, we lost track of him."
Stengel solemnly explained that Rosetter, who was 77 years old, had come out of the bin and had taken his coffee cup to the house. No one saw him return and go into the bin.
"He dialed my cell phone number from inside the bin, but the call was dropped at the tower," Stengel said. "The call was dropped, but that didn't make me feel any better. I was supposed to be watching out for him. Something like this can happen to any one of us."
Stengel explained that it took nearly seven hours to reach Rosetter at the bottom of the 40,000-bushel bin, despite the fact that they had cut the bin wide open, used three vacs and had a payloader and skidloader working the entire time.
"I never felt so helpless in all my life," Stengel said. "And we found him with the scoop shovel at the bottom of the bin. We figure it took 12 minutes for him to get there. That's how fast it consumes you."
Money is currently being earmarked for future safety education in Rosetter's name, Stengel said.
A number of students had the opportunity to try out the tug-o-war grain simulator, which represents the high amount of force one would need to pull in order to keep from being sucked down inside a large amount of grain. For someone buried up to his or her head, it amounts to five times the person's weight.
"I think it was cool," MACS third-grader Jersey Leysen said about the event. "It was fun. My favorite part was here, learning about electricity and getting to pull that weight thing. It was heavy."
St. Edward fifth-grader Jodi Buysse agreed.
"It hurts your hand," she said. "But I had a good time here."
Owen Knochenmus also tried the tug-o-war simulator.
"It was so slippery," he said.
Stengel and Craigmile also demonstrated how dangerous an auger, as well as a belt or a chain on equipment, can be.
"The best thing you can do is shut it off before you touch it," Craigmile said.
Along with the many volunteers during the years, Dale wanted to thank Linda DeGriselles, Minnesota West campus dean, Liz DeBlieck at Bert Raney Elementary School and Al Stoeckman, superintendent at Yellow Medicine East, for all their assistance at this year's event.
He was also appreciative of the more than 20 YME FFA students who served as tour guides and leaders.