Annual Ag Days event teaches students about food sources
Students from Ronan Middle School gained a glimmer of where their food comes from during Ag Days, May 5-6, at the Lake County Fairgrounds in Ronan.
The annual event, which typically attracts 250 fourth and fifth grade students from Ronan and Polson who navigate at least a dozen informational stations, was scaled back significantly due to the pandemic. Just 80 students made the rounds of six presentations last week.
“Everybody keeps saying they just want kids to understand a little better where their food comes from,” says LCCD Conservation Coordinator Heidi Fluery.
To that end, small groups of kids scurried station to station, learning about grains and flour, ATV safety, cattle, honey, and water resources. They also made their own butter to spread on a snack of rolls (made from Montana wheat, of course), and slathered with honey from Arlee Apiaries.
At the grain station, Lauren Hadley, a FoodCorps member who works with elementary students in Ronan and Pablo, explained how wheat and grains are transformed into the foundational ingredient of most baked goods. Kids vied for an opportunity to mill winter wheat into flour with an old-fashioned hand grinder, and examined vials of seeds and grains grown in Montana, including lentils, sunflowers, chickpeas and canola.
At the ATV display, youngsters were tutored on safety techniques. Asked to list one, a kid shouts out, “Don’t be a dummy.”
Future Farmers of America members took turns introducing a bull, heifer and cow/calf pair that were corralled next to each other. Giggles ensued when discussing the differences between bulls, steers and cows. The FFA crew also touched on the advantages of crossbreeding, branding processes, the two categories of cattle (dairy and beef), and which cuts make the tastiest steaks.
FFA member Cloe Hoover noted the obvious attraction between the bull, Hawkeye, and her heifer, Cowgirl, which led to an enlightening conversation about what makes a steer a steer.
She also offered this sound advice: “I would not stick your finger in a cow’s mouth because the back teeth will chomp your finger off.”
At the apiary station, MSU Extension Agent Breton Homewood
explained bee basics, and told youngsters that a fully formed hive can
support around 80,000 honeybees, including the workers, drones and one queen. He modeled a veil, designed to prevent bees from stinging the beekeeper, but emphasized that most bees are calm.
“Bees don’t want to sting. They know that stinging you will actually kill them,” he explained. “They’re just trying to defend their hive.”
The annual event, once hosted at the Vermedahl ranch in Valley View, has been a spring tradition in Lake County for a long time. It came under the umbrella of the Lake County Conservation District in the early 1990s and was moved to the fairgrounds, where it’s been held ever since. In addition to LCCD, this year’s sponsors include the Western Montana Stockgrowers, Montana Farmers Union and Lake County Fair Board.