There's a lot of enthusiastic talk about, "my grandpa does this" or "my grandma does that" amongst the kids after a day of Ag-In-The-Classroom at M State.
Lake Park-Audubon Elementary School third grade teacher, Monika Nelson, said she overhears her kids talking about their family connections to farming as they head back to their school on the bus, and, "It's good to hear. The kids learn a lot of real-world stuff (at Ag-In-The-Classroom); it connects them to their grandparents, their pasts."
That's exactly the kind of thing Ag-In-The-Classroom is intended to do. The annual event is designed to educate kids about farming; to let them hear about agricultural practices first-hand from local farmers and get up close and personal with some live farm animals and big pieces of farm equipment.
Ag-In-The-Classroom has been going on in the Detroit Lakes area for nearly 30 years, according to some of the longtime volunteers for the event, and in that time the program has connected thousands of local students to their agricultural roots.
This year, third and fourth grade students from Rossman, Roosevelt, Lake Park-Audubon, Holy Rosary, Faith Christian and Adventist Christian elementary schools took part in the two-day event, held this past Monday and Tuesday. They saw and pet live animals, explored several large tractors, and listened as almost two dozen volunteers led a variety of 20-minute informational mini-sessions on agricultural topics ranging from beef to sugar beets, farm safety to dairy.
There was a safety demonstration by Jerry Matter, for example, that showed kids the dangers of sticking their fingers into farm equipment. To demonstrate the damage that can be done if you're not careful, Matter stuck carrots — a stand-in for real fingers — into a small piece of machinery. Kids' eyes went wide as the carrots instantly broke apart into tiny pieces.
New this year, as part of a safety session on grain entrapment, lifelong farmer Joe Okeson shared a cautionary tale from a recent frightening first-hand experience. About a month ago, in mid-February, Okeson got trapped inside a grain bin after trying to unplug a hole from the inside. When the hole broke free, he was instantly sucked down toward it, he said.
The pressure on his body was intense: "It felt like my insides were coming out. I was very scared."
He was lucky to survive. It took four men to pull Okeson out. What he should have done, he said, was unplug the hole from the outside of the bin, using a long tool.
Nancy Matter, who led the grain entrapment safety session, said the point is not to scare kids, but to make them aware of the dangers so they can stay safe whenever they're on a farm.
"We want to share this with the kids because it's real," she said. "If it can save one life, or one accident, it's worth it."
Other sessions were more light-hearted, touching on the differences between brown and white sugars, for example, or going over some of the finer details of raising pigs. Organizers say the goal is to paint a complete picture of farming for the kids, so they have a better understanding of where their food comes from, and what it takes to get it to their plates.