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Summer planting season

Ohio’s planting season for crops has wrapped up and 2014 harvest is getting closer, but in many ways, summer offers other opportunities to plant seeds. With the children out of schools and attention turned towards 4-H projects and the fair season, seeds for the future of Ohio agriculture are being planted all the time in every corner of the state through the fair season.

Of course, farm kids from all over Ohio have been hard at work in the show ring at this year’s Ohio State Fair and county fairs. To recognize the importance of these efforts, AgriGold Hybrids is sponsoring Ohio Ag Net mid-day coverage at Ohio fairs and donating $1,000 to 10 separate county junior fair boards across the state.

“We know the important role that youth plays in agriculture,” said Kent Miller, with AgriGold Hybrids. “4-Hers completing a project at the fair is the culmination of all of their hard work and is an excellent building block for agriculture.”

Fairs also offer great opportunities for planting the seeds of agriculture with students who are not from a farm. One tool for accomplishing that goal this summer is the Ohio Department of Agriculture’s Ag is Cool program at the Ohio State Fair.

Most people reading this already know that agriculture is cool, but most people not reading it may not. And, what better venue is there than the Ohio State Fair to build up awareness about the importance of agriculture in Ohio for those not regularly exposed to food production on the farm?

The Ag is Cool program is in its fourth year highlighting the state’s top industry to students, teachers and parents who can get involved at the Ohio State Fair. There are several ways to participate.

In the Ag is Cool Creative Expression competition, K-12 students can flex their imagination by creating agricultural works of art, videos and more to win prizes. The winners are announced by the governor at the Fair. All entries will be judged by a panel including representatives from the Ohio Department of Agriculture, the Office of the Governor, the Ohio Expo Center, and professionals in the areas of video production, photography, drawing, painting and other visual arts. Judging will be based on the student’s visual representation of the “Ag is Cool!” theme, if it accurately reflects 21st Century agriculture, creativity and use of Ohio images, and quality of work. Award winners were recognized by the Office of the Governor and other state officials at the Ohio State Fair on July 23.

The “Ag is Cool for fourth graders” component of the program provides free fair admission to fourth graders and a chaperone by presenting a report card at the entry gate. The students (and their parents) can then visit Ag is Cool displays in the livestock barns around the Fair to talk with industry professionals and learn about agriculture. Participants compete for a $500 scholarship by writing an essay about what they learned.

In “Ag is Cool for Teachers,” fourth grade teachers can register for free admission to the fair and have the opportunity to win a field trip for their class to a farm by participating in the Ag is Cool program. The program is coordinated by the Ohio Department of Agriculture and supported by the Ohio Farm Bureau and Ohio’s livestock and poultry organizations.

Last year, my family was fortunate to be selected to participate in the program by serving as the destination for one of the field trips. In November, a Pickerington fourth grade class to come visit my in-law’s farm.

While not exactly from a big city, the group of students and their teacher had little to no experience with any type of agriculture, other than occasionally driving by the few scattered corn and soybean fields tucked in between houses and strip malls in the area.

For the Sycamore Elementary, the farm was a short 25-minute bus trip. They eagerly petted lambs, listened to a presentation from Roger High with the Ohio Sheep Improvement Association about pasture and forages, and were fascinated by the large Horned Dorset rams (that inspired some interesting questions about anatomy). They learned about wool, egg and meat production, dairy products, livestock byproducts and ate their packed lunches on a hay wagon parked in the green grass beneath a bright blue November sky. They learned about baling hay, long hours, hard labor and the massive effort it takes for farms to produce food for them to eat every day. And, while those young students will probably not remember the finer points of forage production or a cow’s nutrient needs, they will not soon forget the connection they now have with our small farm and the big industry of agriculture.

There is no way of knowing now what, if any, long term impact will result from the students’ visit to the farm on that brisk November day. Maybe the next Norman Borlaug will be from Pickerington, or maybe those students will just think about a farmer the next time they enjoy a good meal.

I have been thinking about the Ag is Cool program as I make the rounds covering events at this year’s Ohio State Fair. Even amid the wild schedule, I can’t help but occasionally pause to think about the potential of the many seeds that are being planted for the future of agriculture. And make no mistake — from the young exhibitor in the spotlight at the Sale of Champions to the fourth graders who visit the hog barn with their parents, seeds are being planted.

This makes the incredible man-hours, funding and sweat that go into the Ohio State Fair — and all of the state’s county and local fairs — so worthwhile. Every farmer knows how much hard work goes into planting a crop and, though little is certain, you simply cannot expect to enjoy a successful future if you never take the time to plant the seeds.


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