Getting in the know

Local students learn agriculture education at Farm Fair

For a day, fourth- and fifth-graders from the Big Timber Grade School, Reed Point, Melville and McLeod school districts cut class and tried on a different form of learning at the Farm Fair on Sept. 7.

Volunteers estimated 90 to 100 kids participated this year in the fourth Farm Fair, an agricultural education program put on by a group of volunteers from the Sweet Grass County community. The goal is to educated the fourth- and fifth-graders about the importance of agriculture. 

Susan Metcalf, the Sweet Grass County superintendent of schools, was helped by Guelda Halverson, Shirley Halverson and Paul Gilbert to come up with the inception of the Farm Fair idea after attending Gallatin County’s Farm Fair in 2011. Metcalf said fourth- and fifth-graders are the perfect age group to get to the Farm Fair.

“It’s the perfect age when they’re still receptive to ideas. They’re still thinking about careers,” Metcalf said. “If you’re thinking about staying in Montana, your career choices are ag-related. There’s no time like fourth- and fifth-[grade] to get them started thinking about that.”

PHOTO GALLERY: Check out the best photos from the 2017 Farm Fair

Agriculture is the No. 1 industry in Montana, with wheat and cattle leading the way. And while population was up 9.7 percent from the 2000 to the 2010 census, the state has just 6.8 people per square mile — ranking third-lowest in the country. Yet, Montana’s 59.8 million acres of land in farms and ranches is second in the country, just behind Texas. 

So, when the opportunity for a couple of local volunteers arose, they jumped at it. 

“There’s an ‘ag in Montana schools’ program, but quite honestly, it’s a box of stuff,” Metcalf said. “It’s an online presence, and that just doesn’t help. You’ve got to actually grab the bull by the horns and do it. You can’t just assume ag is going to get taught at these lower levels unless you actually do it.”

So in 2012, that’s what Metcalf, Guelda, Shirley and Gilbert did. They created the first Sweet Grass County Farm Fair. And while it’s had its hiccups, the benefit has outweighed any kind of downfalls, long nights of planning or frustration along the way. 

For more of this story, pick up a copy of this week’s Big Timber Pioneer on newsstands now, or subscribe online at bigtimberpioneer.net.

PHOTO CAPTION: April Svenson, center, talks with a group of students about dairy and milking dairy goats. Students who wanted to got to try their hand — literally — at milking the dairy goat pictured above. (STEPHEN KALB-KOENIGSEFLD / Big Timber Pioneer)

By STEPHEN KALB-KOENIGSFELD / Pioneer Staff Writer

 

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