By Stacy McQueen & Lynn Colburn
Thursday, April 21 marked the fourth annual Ag Day at Virginia Elementary School. In the past, the event has been in the evening, but this year it was held from 8:30-11 a.m.
I am retiring at the end of the year, so this day was a bittersweet day for me,” says the day’s creator, Stacy McQueen. McQueen says, “I am hopeful that the FFA students will continue to have Ag Day on a smaller scale.”
McQueen created this unique Ag Day event with the purpose of promoting agricultural literacy. Approximately 180 students, pre-K to fifth grade, participated. Students were engaged in hands-on exploration as they learned where their food and fibers come from, and the important role agriculture plays in their lives.
Students had the opportunity to visit up to 16 stations, and several stations were differentiated for different grade levels. At each station, a presenter provided brief information about an agriculture-themed topic (such as dairy, beef, cranberries, pumpkins, eggs, etc.). This was paired with a correlating hands-on activity — activities include anything from games and food tasting to STEM or art activities. STEM develops a set of thinking, reasoning, teamwork, investigative and creative skills that students can use in all areas of their lives — it is a way to intentionally incorporate different subjects across an existing curriculum.
“The kids had a great time!” McQueen says. “I liked having it in the day because all of the kids were able to participate.”
The event included a wide variety of presenters including volunteers from Faith Lutheran Church of Jacksonville, Cass Morgan Farm Bureau, Country Company’s Insurance, Memorial Hospital and Illinois Pork Association, as well as retired or current teachers, Ag in the Classroom coordinators, area farmers, Virginia High School FFA members, master gardeners, master naturalists and other community members.
The activities for this year’s event were:
Herb station – Students learned the difference between herbs and spices. They sampled foods with ginger or dill and traced the origin of spices on a map. The students could add herbs to salsa and eat salsa and chips at the end.
Pizza – Students learned how every part of a pizza can be traced back to the farm. Kids made a bracelet, adding beads of different colors to represent the crops grown on the farm. Students calculated how long it takes to “grow a pizza.”
Rice – Students learned how rice is grown and saw rice plants. They sampled rice cakes and rice pudding.
Eggs – Students learned facts about eggs and played an egg game. They were given a plastic egg to decorate like Humpty Dumpty and had the chance to build a wall out of a variety of materials. Then, they tried to balance their egg without it falling off the wall.
Beef – Students learned about hamburgers and how each ingredient is traced back to the farm. They saw the different farm equipment needed to “make a hamburger” and then made a cookie hamburger to eat.
Pumpkins – Students learned facts about pumpkins, estimated the number of seeds inside a given pumpkin, tasted pumpkin bread and pumpkin seeds, and made a 3-D pumpkin craft.
Cranberries – Students learned how cranberries grow and that cranberries float. They tasted Craisins and different varieties of cranberry juice.
Dairy – The kids “milked a cow,” performed cow yoga and tasted cheese.
Baseball – Baseball is agriculture! The students each received a page of “baseball cards” that had farm animals on them instead of players. They viewed a table full of items found at a baseball game and learned from which animal the items came (hotdogs, peanuts, mustard, ketchup, baseball, gloves, bats, etc.).
Pork – Students learned what everyday items came from pigs and made mock pig feed to eat.
Art – Playdough with farm-themed cookie cutters was a hit! The kids also enjoyed using farm-themed stickers to make a farm scene.
Rabbits – Fourth-grader Avery Gebhardt brought in her rabbits and shared information on how to feed and take care of them.
Bees – Barb Ward taught the kids about bees. The kids also made a bookmark.
Simple Machines – This station included tractors and cars that could be taken apart and put back together using drills and screwdrivers.
Wool – Students learned about sheep and were able to spin a bracelet out of wool.
Games – Students played a variety of farm-themed games, including bingo, egg Tetris, pizza party and tic-tac-toe. They also put farm puzzles together.