With a 1-month-old Holstein calf in a pen and empty dairy product containers nearby, three Seymour High School students educated fifth-graders on all things dairy.
The young kids had several questions for sophomore Jacoby Begley, junior Jerrica Walls and senior Preston Otte.
“Can the male cows produce milk?”
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“How are the baby cows made?”
“Can a bull be milked?”
Some kids aren’t exposed to agriculture on a daily basis, so Wednesday’s Ag Day at Cortland Elementary School was an opportunity for everyone to learn more.
“We’ve had a lot of interesting questions so far,” Begley said with a smile. “You just try to be serious and tell them.”
Begley, Walls and Otte all have worked around farms and are involved in FFA, so Ag Day was right up their alley.
“My whole family owns a dairy farm, so I know a lot about them,” Begley said of the animals. “I just like the kids to know where the dairy products come from and knowing farms aren’t bad places, that farms are businesses for people. It’s just so kids understand the principle of it, more or less.”
Otte said he grew up working on his grandparents’ farm, and he spends a lot of time at Begley’s farm. His brother and father were involved with FFA, and this is his third year of judging dairy cows for FFA.
“They really want to learn about some of the stuff about dairy cattle,” he said of the kids. “It’s important for them to figure out where cottage cheese and sour cream, how that’s made and stuff like that. I just like telling kids and telling other people that don’t know much about agriculture more about it, so they are more educated about where their food comes from.”
Walls, whose family runs a dairy farm, said she liked educating the kids about where food originates.
In the past, Ag Day was every other year for fourth- and fifth-graders at public and private schools in the Seymour district.
Now that Jeanna Eppley is the FFA adviser and agriculture teacher at Seymour High School, she said she would like to make it an annual event for fifth-graders.
“It’s just something that has been a long-standing tradition,” she said. “It’s great to get the kids that don’t typically get to interact with farm animals, get them out here and help them learn a little bit about the agriculture industry because these guys are the ones that we need support from — to support agriculture, to support modern agriculture and to understand where their food comes from.”
A lot of kids think food comes from the grocery store, Eppley said. At Ag Day, they learn that’s not the case.
“This is going back to those grass roots. Where is our food really coming from?” she said. “That’s something that we want to teach them here today.”
Other FFA members manning stations at Ag Day were Karen Dringenburg and Mollie Borcherding talking about sheep; Evan Barnett and Morgan Ritz discussing beef byproducts; and Josie Baker and Olivia Lee talking about Jackson County 4-H.
“Some of them remember being here in fourth or fifth grade,” Eppley said of her students. “Now, they have a lot of fun, and it also makes them kind of break out of their shell to get up and stand in front of those kids and deliver a presentation.”
Also at the event were Jackson County Pork Producers with four baby Berkshire pigs; Jackson County Farm Bureau with information on crops; and Rose Acre Farms sharing information about egg production and letting kids pet baby chicks.
Eppley said Ag Day was a good opportunity to educate the younger children about FFA, too.
“One thing that I’m trying to do with FFA and what we’re really trying to get out to Seymour school students is that you don’t have to be a farmer to be in FFA,” she said. “You don’t have to have a cow or a sow or a plow anymore. We used to go by the name Future Farmers of America. Now, it’s just FFA, an organization for leaders. It’s no longer (solely about) farming. It’s all about supporting the farmer.”
Eppley said only 5 percent of agriculture jobs are production. The rest support that production — including sales and marketing, communications, maintenance, genetics in crop or animal development, raising animals and formulating nutrition.
Agriculture also is among the top five highest-paying careers out of college, Eppley said.
“Agriculture is one of the top five right now because it’s such a growing avenue,” she said. “It’s an industry that has a lot of potential.”
While she’s only a fifth-grader, Cortland Elementary School student Merissa Claycamp said she is considering an agriculture career. That’s because she lives on a farm with her family.
Even though she has that experience, Merissa said she still learned a lot at Ag Day.
“I learned the notches from the pigs (ears) are how they figure out which ones they are, and if there’s a combine or something on the road, you need to stay 20 feet away,” she said. “I probably liked the pigs the most because we don’t have pigs at our house. We have cows and stuff.”
Classmate Tyler Schafstall said he liked going around to the seven stations at Ag Day. He was intrigued by the pigs, too, and he also liked learning about chickens and how robots are used at Rose Acre Farms.
“I like that you can tell other people about how agriculture works,” he said.