For three days every spring South Stokes High School Future Farmers of America (FFA) students become teachers, sharing their knowledge of agriculture with second grade students from throughout the county.
The annual Farm Animals Days, hosted at the Stokes County Fairgrounds, is entirely organized and run by the South Stokes students and provides needed first-hand, real-world enrichment for topics studied in class each year. The event is sponsored by the Stokes County Farm Bureau, the American Legion and the Stokes County Extension Office.
FFA co-presidents Sawyer Stanley and Rachel Brown said organizing the event is a year long process for the club.
“It is an educational way for us to get out how important agriculture is,” said Brown. “As they go through the exhibit we teach them how important it is and make sure they know that not all farm animals come from what people consider to be factory farms. It is a good way for us to teach them young so they can go home and educate others and implement it in future generations. It is really about making sure they understand where their food comes from and how important the life of agriculture is to their own life.”
The event features a variety of stations where second grade students can see and interact with animals and farm equipment.
“This year we had our poultry, which includes ducks, chickens, turkey and some guineas,” said Brown. “We also had donkeys, sheep, meat and dairy goats, beef and dairy cows, pigs, honey bees,N.C agriculture, rabbits and tractor safety. We have props and animals for each station. Some, like our incubator and duck slide were built in our ag classes in our carpentry workshop, and then the animals come from around the county.”
Stanley said they have tried to add at least one station to the event every year.
“Our freshman year we only had nine stations and this year we are up to 15,” said the senior.
Brown said this year the kids especially enjoyed seeing the rabbits and ducks and playing on tractors.
The FFA students organize the entire event, contacting each of the elementary schools to work out schedules, getting t-shirts for each of the visiting kids and even vising feeder schools to have pre- Farm Animal Days visits with second graders.
“We won a grant that we have used building schools in our four feeder schools,” explained Stanley. “Once a week I go to each school, Germanton, London, Pine Hall and Walnut Cove. We planned a garden and do lessons where we learn about good bugs and bad bugs and when and how to use a greenhouse and how to test soil and all sorts of stuff.”
London Elementary School teacher Debora Long said the Farm Animals Day event was a great addition to what her students learned in class.
“It goes right along with their curriculum,” she said. “We talked about animal life cycles and plant life cycles and ecology and the the environment and they have talked about sustainability with farming. We are even reading Charlotte’s Web so with the pigs they could relate to that as well.
“It is very important for them to get out of the classroom,” she added. “When they come here they talk to the students who are about to go to college or go out and be a farmer or whatever they are going to do. They get to get their hands on things and to see what they are doing. These are younger people, not adults, so they are more wiling to ask them questions. I feel like in a lot of school kids, they are doing it just for the teacher, but they to need learn that this is for their future and take what they are learning and apply it to their future. They need to learn about real life and this is real life, down and dirty.”
Brown said the event was a good learning opportunity for the FFA students as well.
“Students in our advanced ag classes were each assigned an animal and they had to learn everything they could learn about their subject to be able to present it to the students and teach the others in their group,” she said.
Stokes County Cooperative Extension Livestock Agent Carl Mitchell agreed, noting that the most effective way to retain knowledge is by teaching to others.
“The elementary kids look up to high school kids like no other group so they are going to pay attention and be more excited about learning about the animals,” he added, “so you get a two fold gain there.”
Mitchell said the event was especially important because it helped get the next generation interested in agriculture.
“This generation their parent are generally not farmers and even their grand parents are generally not farmers,” he said. “It is very important for people to know where their food comes from. The younger we can get our kids involved in and exposed to the animal sciences the easier it is to educate people.”
That philosophy seems to have worked over the years. Last week Long said she loved seeing some of her former second graders now running the FFA event and both Brown and Stanley said they remembered coming to a similar event when they were in elementary school.
“When we were that age we never thought we could be running the show, so now to look at the second graders come through we can tell them they could be a future FFA president and make a difference in agriculture,” said Brown.
“It is fun to hear them say they can’t wait to get to high school to be in the FFA,” agreed Stanley. “We know there is a bright future for this program.”
Both Brown and Stanley plan to study agriculture education at college next year and hope to eventually return to teach in Stokes County.
“I want to come back and help give back what was given to me,” said Brown.
The organizing and management of the Farm Animals Day will fall to a group of rising South Stokes juniors next year.
“I have big shoes to fill,” said Sarah Virkholz, “but I look forward to being able to do what they do and keep it going. I have been raised on a family farm and it is great to be able to teach what my parents have taught me and spread interest in agriculture.”
This year the event served over 750 students including some pre-school and exceptional education students.
Nicholas Elmes may be reached at 336-591-8191 or on Twitter @NicholasElmes.