Nearly everyone in agriculture agrees on one thing – the industry needs to do a better job of telling its story and creating positive images with those unfamiliar with farms. Ashley Schultz, Extension 4-H youth educator in Johnson County, tried an experimental program to do that at the county fair last year. It was so successful she's expanding it this year.
The program involves an animal book as the theme for the day, plus a tour of barns by 4-Hers, and then a snack based on the book or the animal.
"Last year we read A Pig and a Pancake to them," she recalls. "The 4-Hers do the real interacting with the kids. Then they took them to the swine barn and showed them pigs. Since the feature food was a pancake, we served them pancakes."
While it was only a couple hours for one day, Schultz believes it was a start. One of the 4-Hers was featured in the local paper, explaining the program. That's the kind of publicity you can't buy – you have to earn it.
Part of the beauty of the program is the adults that accompany the kids learn along with them. Called RT2, it's all about reading about agriculture, tasting food, and touching agriculture, through the barn visit.
Books about farm animals are readily available, she notes. She already plans to expand the program this year and make it a part of what she and selected 4-H members do during fair week. The reading portion is held in a building on the grounds isolated from the hubbub of the fair. Then the barn tours give the kids the flavor of what the fair is like.
Congratulations on spreading the message about agriculture to the youngest of future consumers!