10/07/10 — Interactive exhibits give kids close-up look at life on farm

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Interactive exhibits give kids close-up look at life on farm

By Gary Popp
Published in News on October 7, 2010 1:46 PM

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Connor Sasser, 5, plucks a carrot from the dirt while attending the "Hands On" exhibit at the Wayne Regional Agricultural Fair. A new exhibit at the fair offers young people the chance to experience a hands-on approach to farming, learning how to work in a garden, collect eggs or milk a cow. Fair officials said they hope the interactive exhibit will get more attention than static displays.

Milking a cow, gathering eggs and digging turnips might sound like chores for some Wayne County farm folk, but for young visitors to the Wayne Regional Agricultural Fair, the activities are a chance to learn about their food and where it comes from.

For the first time, the fair is featuring hands-on exhibits that give children a realistic feel of what it's like to work on a farm.

"We are teaching kids that milk comes from a cow, not the refrigerator," said Wallace Simmons, 4-H Extension agent and the exhibit's organizer.

A life-size wooden cow with rubber udders, plastic vegetables buried in play sand and fake eggs under polyester hens are just some of the games set up by the county's 4-H clubs to show young people exactly how their food is grown.

By making the learning experience fun, officials hope to be more effective in helping youths learn about the basics of farming -- a way of life that was perhaps familiar to their grandparents, or even their parents, but that is increasingly foreign to them.

"Every generation is getting further away from the farm," Simmons said.

But farming is changing as well, he said. With fewer farmers and more people to feed, advances in techniques are the best hope for continued success in keeping the world fed.

"4-H is not only about farming," Simmons said. "It's also about science and technology."

Older youths have a similar chance to observe more sophisticated farm techniques. For example, in another booth, teens learned the ins and outs of diesel engine repair.

Static displays might do a good job of presenting information, but there is nothing like hands-on participation, said fair manager Milton Ingram, who helped come up with the idea for the exhibits.

Among the attractions were more than 40 live chicks nestled under heat lamps.

"Earlier in the fair, children were able to observe the chicks hatch," Simmons said. "This type of hands-on learning is important because it supplements the children's classroom curriculum."

The youngsters also were excited to take their turn at an antique, hand-cranked corn sheller.

Not only is the sheller fun for the kids, it represents the generation gap 4-H is addressing by offering the exhibit. The children enjoy the corn sheller because it is something they have never seen -- a clunky, iron device which grinds the corn stalk from the top and spits out its golden seeds from the side. Some of the adult visitors said they liked it because it reminds them of the old days.

Holly Lutze, a 4-H club leader, was one of the many volunteers manning the exhibit.

"I think the kids are really learning a lot," Ms. Lutze said. "As a teacher, I know kids are lacking some basic information. The kids are learning here, even if they don't know it."

Simmons and Ingram said the exhibits are likely to become a staple for the fair.

"It is working really well for us," Simmons said. "We are looking to expand on the interactive idea next year."