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Learning farm life

JEFF KRATOCHWILL talks to Ashley Mohn's Roosevelt Elementary School 4th graders about safety and the farming accident that left him without his left arm during Ag in the Classroom Monday afternoon.1 / 5
Holy Rosary 4th graders Mary Nelmark, Casey Goltz, Annika Hughes and Trisha Gebhart smile as they check out a tractor during Ag in the Classroom2 / 5
Students look at a three-dimentional topographical map of Becker County during a discussion on soil.3 / 5
Dean Hendrickson with Becker County Soil and Water Conservation District shows students a soil sample during Ag in the Classroom Monday afternoon.4 / 5
MARK MOXNESS of Titan Machinery in Fergus Falls helps Lake Park-Audubon 3rd grade students out of a Case I-H tractor dueing Ag in the Classroom Tuesday morning.5 / 5

"There are four basic ingredients to life -- and three of them are right here in this jar," said soil conservation technician Jeff Norby, as he held up the aforementioned jar before a group of about 25 students Monday afternoon.

"Can you tell me what they are?" he asked the students.

Though they came up with the "air," "soil" and "water" that filled Norby's jar, the students struggled a few minutes before they came up with the fourth ingredient: sunlight, or solar energy.

Norby, who works for the Natural Resource Conservation Service in Detroit Lakes, was among approximately a dozen presenters who took part in the annual Ag in the Classroom program at Minnesota State Community & Technical College in Detroit Lakes.

The presenters spoke to more than 350 area third and fourth graders from schools throughout Becker County including Rossman Elementary, Roosevelt Elementary, Holy Rosary and Faith Christian schools in Detroit Lakes as well as Lake Park-Audubon and White Earth.

The students participated in two days' worth of mini-sessions including classes in farm safety, beef cattle, hogs, dairy, sheep, soils, grains, sugar beets, maple syrup and miniature farm machinery.

In addition, they had the chance to interact with live farm animals and climb around on full-size farm vehicles.

Norby's presentation on soils also included Becker County Soil & Water Conservation District technician Dean Hendrickson, who discussed soil topography using a 3D map of the county -- students were given 3D glasses to use during this portion of the session -- and distributed samples of the four basic soil types.

Hendrickson gave each of the students a chance to get a hands-on feel of the different soil types, which ranged from the gritty texture of sand to the smoothness of silt (clay and loam are the other two types).

In the M State conference room, Farm Bureau underwriter Jeff Kratchowill demonstrated the dangers of farm machinery and electric-powered equipment.

Two large plastic barrels, each filled with about 75 pounds of grain, were set up with large pieces of rope sticking out of them. The students were then called up in pairs and asked to pull out the "person" attached to the other end of the rope -- under the mini-mountain of grain.

"Help! You've got to save me -- I'm sinking!" Kratochwill called as the students each pulled their hardest, yet couldn't budge the rope.

The reason for this, he told them after each group had taken their turn, is because a person would need to have 10 times the amount of weight, or lift, on the pulling end of the rope in order to make an impact.

In other words, to budge an object buried under 75 pounds of grain, you would need 750 pounds of lift to get them out.

The point of the demonstration was to illustrate that the last thing anyone should do in case of a grain bin accident is to try to pull the victim out themselves.

Kratchowill's presentation was lent a particular air of gravity for the students by his own physical presence: the longtime Brainerd-area farmer lost an arm to a close encounter with a round baler almost 30 years ago.

Meanwhile, in yet another classroom, beef farmers Kevin and Denise Olson told the students about all the hard work that goes into preparing their steers and calves for the Becker County and Minnesota State fairs each summer.

The animals are bathed daily during the summer months, then dried with a machine that's "just like the (hair dryer) your mom uses, only about 100 times more powerful," Kevin Olson said.

Over time, the animals learn to enjoy the experience, which feels sort of like a massage to them, he explained.

He also encouraged the students to visit the beef barn at the fair this summer, because "after all the work we've done, we want you to enjoy it."

Next week, approximately 150 students from Frazee-Vergas Public Schools will experience a similar, if slightly shortened "Ag in the Classroom" program, which will take place on a single morning in Frazee.

The annual Ag in the Classroom program is organized by volunteers from the Becker County Farm Bureau, Detroit Lakes Chamber of Commerce Agri-Business Committee and Becker County Soil and Water Conservation District. For more information, contact event organizers Lowell and Mary Ann Jorgenson at 218-375-4611.