She stands in front of an ornate trailer crowned with wildflowers and full of giant earthworms, grubs, roots and a mole — all staples of Kansas’ soil.
“You’ve got ants in your pants, don’t you?” Harris, Franklin County Conservation District manager, said to a fidgety youngster attending the Ottawa Area Chamber of Commerce agribusiness committee’s Day on the Farm event at Sylvester Ranch, 1906 Kingman Road, Ottawa.
Harris, who’s attended the annual event for 11 years now, hopes to impart the vital importance of soil to nearly every facet of modern life. To illustrate its rich significance, Harris is using the “Soil Tunnel Trailer,” a 12-by-8 1/2 foot trailer that houses educational tools for children and adults to learn more about soil. The trailer, which is now 3 years old, Harris said, travels across Kansas to schools and events teaching interested parties about soil layers, its inhabitants and why it is essential to mankind.
“Soil is one of our most precious natural resources,” Harris said. “I talk with the kids that there’s nothing that doesn’t come from the soil in one form or another. We wouldn’t have the clothes on our back or the food that we eat without the soil. And so we think that is really important and educating kids about it.”
While the trailer did its job educating and entertaining the 350 third-graders attending Tuesday’s event, it was only one of 10 stations designed to teach youth about agriculture, Jarred Sterling, chairman of the Ottawa Area Chamber of Commerce agribusiness committee, said.
“What we want to do [with the event] is educate everybody about agriculture here in Franklin County and across the state of Kansas,” Sterling said. “We recognize that maybe people and children have become more removed from the farm and they need to know where their food comes from, how it’s produced and have that good positive perception of agriculture and feel comfortable with it, too. ... We really try to focus on that good agricultural message.”
While the event hasn’t changed much throughout its history, Sterling said, he and other organizers ask for feedback to tweak its offerings from year to year. The event is made possible by Arvest Bank, Kansas State Bank and Frontier Farm Credit, Sterling said.
Other stations included discussions on Kansas wildlife, drafting horses, livestock, hunting, 4-H and grains. Another station on farm safety lured Leslie Rogers, who attended Day on the Farm when she was a third-grader. At this year’s event, however, Rogers was leading her 22 third-grade students from Eugene Filed Elementary School, 720 S. Tremont Ave., Ottawa.
As a third-grader at the event, Rogers said, she didn’t recall a discussion on safety, which she said was beneficial for her students.
“It’s been a long time, but I think this station here on safety is a great addition because a lot of my students have never been on a farm or maybe have only a few times, so they’re not really certain of what’s safe and unsafe — this really clears up a lot of confusion,” Rogers, who was corralling 22 of her students, said. “This really stresses the importance of agriculture and especially food. A lot of kids don’t really think about the work and effort that goes into everything that they’re eating. ... [The students] seem really excited.”
Katelyn Brockus, Princeton, who also is a 2008 graduate of Central Heights High School, now is serving as president of the Kansas State Collegiate Cattlewomen, which was in attendance at the event. While the organization typically advocates on behalf of the beef industry, Brockus and the Cattlewomen were in Ottawa Tuesday to discuss farm safety.
“We try to get the kids involved in everything that we do and try to take volunteers so they’re not just sitting around listening to us,” Brockus said. “We just asked the last [student] group here, ‘What has been your most fun event?’ and they said, ‘Right here, we love this one.’”
The group reviewed three main components of farm safety, Brockus said, which included discussions on livestock, ATV and chemical safety. Regarding ATV safety, Brockus told the students that people should always wear a helmet, avoid driving on roads, only ride with one other person and don’t stand up when operating a four-wheeler.
While a majority of the event’s participants were still in grade school, it also attracted Elsie Toone, Riley, who was celebrating her 104th birthday. Toone, who was raised on a wheat, corn and soybean farm, said that despite her century of experience with agriculture, she still managed to absorb new knowledge.
“I think it’s been interesting so far,” Toone said. “I’m learning stuff, too.”