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600 students attend Third Grade Ag Expo in Rigby

By Sean Ellis

Idaho Farm Bureau Federation

RIGBY – More than 600 third-graders from Jefferson County were taught some of the basics of agriculture May 4-5 during the county’s annual Third Grade Ag Expo.

The event, a partnership between the Rigby FFA chapter and Jefferson County Farm Bureau, is meant to introduce kids in the county to farming and ranching and to give them an appreciation of what agriculture means in their everyday lives, said Lex Godfrey, an ag education teacher and FFA advisor from Rigby High School.

“Agriculture literacy is decreasing,” he said. “People’s awareness and understanding of how their food is produced, how it gets to their plate, and where it comes from is diminishing. It’s important for us to be able to educate people about that simple part of their lives that they touch every day, three times a day.”

There is still a lot of agricultural activity happening around Rigby and in Jefferson County but the area is also experiencing rapid population growth and the newcomers, as well as long-time residents, need to have a basic understanding of what agriculture means to them and the area’s economy, Godfrey said.

Jefferson is one of Idaho’s top 10 counties in terms of farm revenue and the county’s farmers and ranchers brought in $295 million in farm-gate receipts in 2017, according to the 2017 Census of Agriculture.

But the area is also one of the state’s fastest-growing as well and a lot of those newcomers have very little understanding of what farming and ranching is or what it means to the area’s economy and way of life, Godfrey said.

“We have agricultural roots in this area but those agricultural roots are slowly (disappearing),” he said. “Our community is growing at an exponential rate. Each year we’re seeing over a hundred new students in our school district and we’re seeing more and more subdivisions popping up all over. With that amount of growth, it becomes more important for us to educate the youth about agriculture….”

Jefferson County Farm Bureau provided $3,000 toward the event this year to help offset the cost of transporting the students to the Jefferson County Fairgrounds, where it’s held.

Third-graders from throughout the county attend the event.

“We are getting a lot of out-of-state people coming into this area. Let’s teach them about agriculture,” said Jordon Raymond, chairman of Jefferson County Farm Bureau’s Young Farmers and Ranchers committee. “Let’s educate them about farming and let’s have them learn about agriculture from the farmers, not from somebody that has an agenda.”

The event includes 10 learning stations and the third-graders are divided up into groups that visit each of the stations, where they learn about dairy, potatoes, grains and beef, the importance of fertilizers and other crop chemicals, veterinary health and medicine and other aspects of the agriculture industry.

The stations include lessons about the importance of rangeland and the importance of water and water quality.

At one of the stations, students plant a potato in a plastic cup that they can take home with them.

The students are learning about many of the concepts presented during the event, Godfrey said. “Here, they are able to come and touch it, feel it, understand it on a deeper level.”

The event is planned and run by local FFA members, who also man the stations and escort the individual groups of students.

About 45 FFA students worked with local industry representatives to plan and execute this year’s Third Grade Ag Expo and the event is an opportunity for FFA members to learn more about the industry as well, Godfrey said.

“We think that part right there, that mentorship between industry partners and our youth leaders, is essential and important,” he said.

Jordyn Gebarowski, president of the Rigby FFA chapter, said some of the third-graders have a decent basic understanding of agriculture but many don’t.

“As our area is growing, we want our population to know more about agriculture,” she said. “We are getting (a lot of people) who don’t know anything about it. If we start at this young of an age, they keep it with them forever. They are going to remember six years down the line things they learned on this field trip.”

“The message we want to get out to these kids is that agriculture is important and your food doesn’t just come from the grocery store,” said Kayda Hickman, an FFA member who coordinated this year’s event. “As third-graders, they are young enough that you can still get the message across to them and they’ll remember it. Third grade is the best age to get their attention and be able to teach them things.”

Hickman said if she could have each student remember one thing about the field trip, it’s “that agriculture is important, and I also want them to remember that agriculture is part of their everyday life.”

She said she was told by multiple teachers during this year’s event that the kids had been talking about the field trip for weeks and couldn’t wait to attend.

The students weren’t the only ones itching to attend the event.

“I’ve been teaching for 24 years in this district and this is my favorite field trip that we’ve ever had,” said Susan Lindsey, who teachers third grade at South Fork Elementary.