Wednesday marked the 25th Kids Ag Day, an event that brings area fourth graders to a working farm. Nowadays, some of the volunteers that put this event together can remember attending Ag Day when they were young.
Three area farms have hosted the event over the years, but the Kids Ag Day committee has always had the Great Bend Expo Complex ready as a backup in case of rain. That has only happened once before, said Ron Koelsch, who planned to host this year’s event at his Diamond K Farm in rural Great Bend. But between Sunday and Tuesday, the Diamond K received 4.3 inches of rain and everything was moved to the Expo.
“Things are wet,” Koeksch said. “The good thing is, the volunteers won’t be in a hurry to leave to cut corn in the field.”
Other farms have received more than 5 inches of rain this week, said David Leroy, who chairs the Great Bend Chamber of Commerce’s Kids Ag Day Committee.
To celebrate 25 years, the committee sponsored an old-fashioned breakfast for past and present volunteers. A special backdrop was created so each school could get a professional class photo, and children received “Thank a Farmer” bracelets.
“We’ve had 25 good years and hope to have another 25 years,” Koelsch said. When the event started at Kevin Mauler’s 4M Farms, “we didn’t know how long it would last.” 4M, Diamond K and Brining Farms, operated by the late Roger Brining, have all hosted the event over the years.
Throughout the day, students met real farmers and people from the agriculture sector who gave talks and demonstrations on a variety of topics, from shoeing horses to combatting erosion to using drones in the field. Hayrides powered by farm tractors shuttled students and teachers from station to station.
The Park School Drone Club showed a video of last year’s Kids Ag Day to the breakfast group, and Park students were busy making a new video on Wednesday. However, Park School Principal Phil Heeke noted, all of the photography Wednesday was done on the ground with still cameras and iPads. “We can’t fly drones out here today because it’s too close to the airport,” he said.
Great Bend High School’s FFA class was in charge of a petting zoo. FFA member Branden Heine said most of the animals, which included goats, chickens and an alpaca, belong to the students or their teacher.
Jerry Esfeld from Farm Bureau and Lisa Edgett, a retired teacher, gave the “Thank a Farmer” presentation. Esfeld held up a bright red picture of an apple, and asked children to imagine it represented Earth. Then she pulled away three-fourths of the image, to represent the fact that three-fourths of the globe is covered by water and can’t be farmed. In fact, her sliver of red became smaller and smaller as Esfeld subtracted the land unavailable for growing food: mountains, deserts, swamps and polar ice caps — not to mention the land used for human dwellings, recreation and infrastructure.
Meanwhile, Edgett held a real apple, which she carved to similar proportions. She was left with just a sliver, since only 1/32 of the Earth’s surface has the potential to grow the food. Edgett reminded the students that farming only happens on the top layer, so she held up the peal of the 1/32 slice of apple.
“It takes 100 years to make one inch of top soil,” she said. “This feeds the entire world.”
That’s a lot of people, Esfeld said. She invited the children to go on the internet to the Census Bureau’s U.S. and World Population Clock. As of 4 p.m. Wednesday, the world population was approaching 7.5 billion, and the U.S. population was over 328.5 million. The numbers continue to grow.
Students were also shown a large pizza image and asked to imagine its toppings. The crust made from wheat flour, the cheese, meat and vegetables, all come from plants or animals. “Without the farmer, you and I would never get to have a pizza,” Esfeld said.
Karl Sprague, who recently retired as the Great Bend USD 428 Food Services director, was grilling hamburgers for lunch served to about 370 children and a host of volunteers from all around the county. Hamburgers provided one of the final lessons of the day, he said. “This is kind of the end product of Ag Day.”