Program shows students the basics of agriculture

Like a farmer starting out small and eventually expanding into a larger operation, Roger Dale, of Hanley Falls, instigated an elementary agriculture presentation for 20 students in a classroom 27 years ago that has now grown into a program that includes 350 students from 11 schools in three counties.

Mark Johnson, right, helps Dustin Fier, a fourth-grader from Minneota, try on safety equipment used by Minnesota Valley Light and Power Cooperative of Montevideo. Johnson’s presentation was on farm safety and how to be careful when working near power lines. Photo by Scott Thoma

“Roger is an important aspect of the development of this program,” said Gene Stengel, one of several individuals now giving presentations of the program held at the Minnesota West Technical School campus in Granite Falls. “He is an integral part year after year of putting agriculture in the classroom.”

The 2017 “Ag in the Classroom” program attracted public and parochial fourth-grade students and their teachers over two days in early March. It’s all designed to teach kids about the various aspects of farm life.

“We had 280 students attend last year,” said Dale, 81, who now co-chairs the event with Carl Louwagie. “Because we added even more students this year, we decided to hold it over two days. We have it for fourth-graders because we feel that is the right age for what we are teaching.”

Louwagie is a board member with the Yellow Medicine Corn Growers Association and was helping them at the event several years ago when he was approached about the idea of assisting Dale.

“I saw what a success this program was so I was happy to join Roger and be a part of it,” said Louwagie, who has volunteered as a co-chairman for 12 years. “It’s a very rewarding experience.”

“I couldn’t do this without him,” Dale said, pointing to his co-chair. “I couldn’t have a better co-chair. We get along well, and we know what each other is thinking, and almost always agree when one of us comes up with an idea.”

The students and instructors come from schools in Yellow Medicine, Lyon and Lac qui Parle counties.

Students attending the program get a better understanding of various aspects of agriculture. In all, there are presentations at stations that the students and teachers rotate to throughout the day. These stations include: Safety, Electricity, Turkeys, Soybeans, Corn, Beef, Dairy, Pork and Natural Resources Conservation Sevice.

“The kids are learning a lot and are excited to go to the next station,” said one teacher. “Even the students that live on farms are learning from the presentations.”

Dale has continued his involvement with the program because he feels it’s vital that all kids become educated about agriculture.

“I think it’s important for kids to learn where their food comes from,” he said. “And we want them to learn not only where it comes from, but what all is involved in the process of planting, harvesting, raising animals from the time they are young until they go to market, and how to stay safe when working with machinery.

“And we want them to know that farmers are good people. Sometimes they get a bad rap because they say we pollute the rivers and streams. But we eat and drink the same foods so we try to take good care of the land and water and pass it on to the next generation as good, or better, than when we had it.”

All the presenters involved in the Ag in a Classroom program have agriculture backgrounds. Some of the presenters have been involved in this program for several years.

“I really enjoy talking to the kids,” said Jane Remiger of Remiger Dairy Farm in Hanley Falls. “We’ve been presenting here for many years. I teach the kids that to have a good herd, you have to take good care of the animals.”

Dale was a member of the Minnesota Soybean Association and got a call 27 years ago from his friend Darles Lamfers, then a teacher at Lakeview Public School in Cottonwood, inquiring about coming to her class to give a talk.

“I wanted Roger to talk about the various foods that come from soybeans,” she said. “It was very educational so we had him come back again the next year.”

From there, the Corn Growers got involved and also gave a presentation. Like a well-fertilized crop, the program grew bigger and stronger and had to be moved to the Yellow Medicine East Elementary School in Clarkfield in 2000 to accommodate the additional presenters and schools involved.

Five years ago, the “Ag in the Classroom” program relocated to the larger Minnesota West Technology School.

“We hold it there when the students are on spring break so we can use a lot of the room,” explained Dale. “This is a great place to hold it because we have plenty of room.”

The public and parochial schools utilizing the program include Yellow Medicine East, Canby, Minneota, Marshall, Lakeview, Lac qui Parle Valley and Dawson-Boyd

Instructors from each of the schools received a complimentary “Teacher’s Resource Box” that included a variety of educational information, as well as pencils, pens, erasers, bookmarks and more for the teachers and students. Each student was also given a T-shirt for attending.

Liz DeBlieck of Bert Raney Elementary School in Granite Falls sends out all the literature to schools to inform them about the program each year.

“All of the items given to the teachers and kids are donated by Corn Growers Association, Soybean Growers Association, and Farm Bureau,” said Dale.

Students are also given milk and cookies during a snack break.

The Yellow Medicine East FFA members acted as tour guides for the event. Many of them attended Ag in the Classroom as elementary school students.

“I had a lot of fun,” said Dustin Fier, a fourth-grader from Minneota, who was selected to try on protective gear worn by a lineman as part of a safety demonstration. “And I learned a lot of things.”

Presentations were held in various classrooms and the auditorium. Several of the presentations included student participation.

“This is such a great thing for the kids,” said one teacher to another teacher at the conclusion of one of the presentations.

“I even learned a lot of things that I didn’t know before,” the other teacher responded.

Dale has been considering passing the torch to Louwagie to run the program.

“I don’t want him to retire from it,” said Louwagie. “He has been such an important part of this program.”

Dale, though, feels Louwagie will keep Ag in the Classroom going strong for years to come.

“It’s going to be hard to let go,” said Dale. “It’s been a big part of me. I see kids on the street that went to this ag program several years before, and they remember me as the guy that showed them the ag show. That means a lot to me.”