May 30th and 31st marked the second annual Agriculture Awareness Days for Queen Anne’s County. About 575 seventh graders took pre-trip assessment to determine their level of current agriculture understanding. Questions were asked of the students relating to farmers conserving natural resources, caring for animals, using technology and other modern agricultural practices. Last year, event organizers were encouraged by the amount of information the students learned and how the event made a positive impression on a vast majority of participants.
Over 120 volunteers from the agriculture community throughout the state worked together over the two day event to man five stations on a variety of agricultural topics. The common theme across all stations each day was exposing students to careers in agriculture. Maryland Farm Bureau 2nd Vice President, John Draper, created a memorable experience for students as they climbed into a tractor. Most of them, their first time experiencing farm machinery. Students were in awe as they watched a drone fly above their heads. Many crowding around a monitor to see what the drone was seeing. The “Today’s Ag Technology” station also featured a lesson from the Grain Producers Utilization Board on field crops, their byproducts, and biotechnology.
The second station covered animal husbandry. Students participated in an interactive game to match livestock species with byproducts. They learned about breeding and genetics, identification methods, and proper handling of animals. Students were then given the opportunity to walk through two barns of livestock. Encouraged to speak to ‘experts’ on each species, they completed a scavenger hunt to learn more about animal agriculture. From there they transitioned into the study of agronomy. Groups split their time in this station between produce production and ornamental horticulture. Half planted seeds in biodegradable pots to take home and watched a demonstration of a trans-planter. The others were given index cards with professions and were asked to place them in the categories of nursery, greenhouse, landscape or support industries.
The Chesapeake Bay and aquaculture were highlighted in the fourth station. A presentation by the Oyster Recovery Partnership gave the students a perspective on the history of oyster aquaculture, and how recycling used oyster shells from restaurants throughout the Mid-Atlantic positively impacts the oyster population in the Chesapeake Bay. Students also learned the differences in techniques for wild oyster harvesting and farmed oyster practices. Hands-on learning was created through a rope tying lesson and tong harvesting demonstrations.
Queen Anne’s County FFA members were the facilitators of the final station called “My Future.” Students were given an overview of the agriculture pathways program at Queen Anne’s County High School and how that could fit into their schedules and benefit their future career aspirations. County FFA Officers spoke about their experiences attending field trips throughout the state and competing in Career Development Events. Leadership and professional development opportunities through participation in the FFA program were highlighted by one officer crediting FFA for helping her become a powerful and confident public speaker.
Back in the classroom, students will take a post-trip assessment to gauge the impact that these two days have made. The engagement from students, parents, and teachers in each station and the quality of questions exemplifying curiosity have been incredible to witness. 575 seventh graders have become 575 more informed consumers with a greater understanding of agriculture and, quite possibly, 575 future members of the agriculture industry workforce.