Many students at Seymour-Jackson Elementary School have a pet dog or cat at home, but getting to see up close and touch a baby goat is as good as going to the zoo.
Seymour High School FFA students understand that most kids don’t grow up on a farm or have an understanding of where the food they eat originates. And no, it’s not at a grocery store.
That’s why the annual Ag Day event at Cortland Elementary School is so important, FFA adviser and agriculture teacher Jeanna Eppley said.
On Friday, more than 400 fifth-graders from Seymour Community Schools and local parochial schools, including Immanuel Lutheran, St. Ambrose Catholic and Sandy Creek Christian Academy, were bused to Cortland Elementary to experience a day on the farm.
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The groups rotated by class through several stations in the Cortland gymnasium, where the young students learned about dairy goats, taking care of dogs, beef cattle, animal byproducts, eggs, pigs, horse riding equipment, sheep, rabbits and even biosecurity.
Each station was led by FFA students who talked about their topics for a few minutes and then answered questions. But having the opportunity to pet the animals was overwhelmingly the best part of the day, the fifth-graders said.
“That’s the softest thing I’ve ever felt,” one student shouted out after petting a sheep.
Other students gawked when they learned their favorite pizza topping — pepperoni — could be made from goat meat and that gummy worms are made from gelatin, which often is made from the crushed bones of animals.
Hannah Dart, a student at Jackson Elementary, said she was surprised by how much she learned, especially about rabbits, which were one of her favorite animals there.
“I think it’s really cool that we get to pet the animals, especially since we don’t have these kind of animals at home,” she said. “And I had no idea that there are 47 different breeds of rabbits and they have 28 teeth.”
Seymour-Jackson Elementary teacher Melanie Klakamp said she thinks the Ag Day visit is a great way to spark interest in students and engage them in learning about the world around them.
“They can learn about farm animals from a book, but it’s not the same as getting to see and touch them,” Klakamp said. “It’s a whole different game then.”
She also said the event is a great way for students to find out about 4-H and FFA and how they can get involved.
Even if they aren’t interested in farming, there were still lessons to be learned, such as what not to feed a pet dog, including chocolate, avocados, grapes and raisins, citrus fruits, nuts, milk and dairy products, onions or garlic, raw meat or bones.
Sophomore Jaden Begley, who helped lead the dog presentation, said being involved in Ag Day is a way to increase the number of students who pursue agriculture-related jobs when they graduate from high school and college. This is her second year in FFA.
“I hope that the kids understand why we do what we do, why we have farmers spending the day doing this, taking time away from their families just to put food on other people’s tables,” she said.
Ag Day is a tradition for Seymour FFA, one that has been in place for more than 30 years. In the past, it was conducted every two years but became an annual event when Eppley took over the ag department in 2013.
Eppley said future Ag Days, starting in 2018, will be at the school’s new ag research and farm school building under construction on school-owned property in Freeman Field. That facility is scheduled to be completed this summer.
For Eppley, Ag Day is about letting her FFA students become teachers and share their passion for agriculture with a younger generation.
“All day, we get to hear how great the FFA leaders are doing, and it makes us proud to see our students grow as leaders,” she said. “It is a wonderful opportunity for the FFA members to put their purpose into action.”