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Ag literacy festivals teach next generation

Since the first festival in 1996, more than 90,000 students have gained a better understanding of agriculture and its impact on Nebraska.

Holly Wortmann

June 25, 2024

4 Min Read
Members of the Norfolk FFA Chapter share experiences and concepts behind the ag industry with students at a local ag literacy festival
SHARING: Members of the Norfolk FFA chapter share experiences and concepts behind the ag industry with students at a local ag literacy festival. Photos by Holly Wortmann

“Our state of Nebraska does so much for the world that our students don’t even know about,” says Nicole Pfeifer, a second grade teacher at Norfolk Catholic School in northeast Nebraska.

Pfeifer was one of many Madison County educators this past spring who accompanied her students to a Nebraska Agriculture Literacy Festival. More than 350 second through fourth graders in Madison County schools attended the event.

The festival atmosphere allows students to circulate through interactive experiences, engaging with presenters and learning about agricultural commodities and technologies found in Nebraska. 

Sarah Polacek, Nebraska 4-H Extension educator, has been involved in Nebraska Ag Literacy Festivals for 19 of Madison County’s 21 years hosting the event.

“School groups moved through presentation stations to learn about beef cattle, dairy cattle, poultry, hogs, sheep, horses, goats, and corn and soybeans,” Polacek says. “We have also had farm equipment suppliers bring in machinery, so that our students can see the size and magnitude of the equipment and what it does when planting and harvesting.”

Staying engaged

Kids are naturally curious about what happens on a farm. With continued growth in urban areas, many youth don’t have the opportunity to visit a farm and speak directly with a farmer to get their questions answered. This limited exposure to agriculture often means many aren't aware of the crucial role ag plays in Nebraska and everyday life.  

Related:Behind the scenes at Nebraska Tractor Test Laboratory

Nebraska Ag Literacy Festivals are making a difference in local communities and statewide. Festival organizers from all corners of Nebraska are in full planning mode to bring students an increased knowledge of agricultural production. In 2023, Nebraska Extension reported more than 6,070 students in second through fifth grades from 153 of Nebraska’s schools attended a Nebraska Ag Literacy Festival. 

youth petting pigs

Since the first festival in 1996, more than 90,000 grade-school students have gained a better understanding of agriculture and its impact on Nebraska. Extension organizes the festivals and partners with commodity groups, businesses and organizations for program content, presentations and funding.

“The event planning begins as soon as the event ends,” Polacek says. “The buildings are reserved, the date is set, and the advertising begins. In August, teachers are invited to begin registering for the next year. We also start recruiting presenters and confirm them early in the year. Communication and schedules are done with the teachers, and we are ready for the next event. It really is a year-round plan.”

Related:Crop scouting contest trains next generation

Content may vary

Presentation content varies at each individual festival, but all focus is on connecting students with agriculture and the work involved. Some presenters engage students in lessons on livestock, crops and water. In addition, students are introduced to ag technology and agribusiness topics. 

Madison County’s youngest festival presenter is Franklin Polacek, a 12-year-old 4-H member who shows poultry at his county fair.

“How many sixth graders do you know that can present to over 350 students?” says Polacek, who is also Franklin’s mother. “This is Franklin’s second year presenting, so he has reached over 750 students sharing his knowledge and experience of raising chickens and ducks.

“During the session, Franklin talks about poultry terms, incubating, candling and hatching eggs, egg colors, egg production, and parts of the animals, and then answers questions from his group. His favorite part is bringing a few of his chickens and ducks so the students can see different breeds, colors and sizes.”

Kenzie Radanz, a 4-H alum, share horse care experience with young participants.

For Pfeifer, the Ag Literacy Festival is more than a typical class outing because it offers her students a deeper understanding and connection to the state’s vital agricultural industry.

“I continue to bring my classroom year after year because there are so many valuable lessons to be learned from agriculture,” she says. “I have attended for over 20 years, and each time we attend, I always come away with learning even more. The students love hands-on learning, and it sticks with them.”

For more information on Nebraska Ag Literacy Festivals, call Cole Meador, Nebraska Extension, at 402-624-8030 or email [email protected]

Wortmann writes from Crofton, Neb.

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About the Author(s)

Holly Wortmann

Holly Wortmann grew up in an active 4-H family, showing horses in both county and state fairs. A graduate of College of Saint Mary with a communications degree, Wortmann now serves the Crofton schools district as a substitute teacher and coaches the Play Production team.

Holly and husband, Chris, own a structural engineering firm and live on the Wortmann family farm with their four daughters, Elizabeth, Sophia, Cecilia, and Meredith. Holly also serves as a director of the Nebraska Association of County Extension Boards.

Her favorite hobby includes home-canning, especially the part when the ping of the quart jar lids seal at the end of a canning day.

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