Science and ag goes hands-on in Ag-Venture
SEBRING - It's fairly common knowledge that cows have four stomach chambers but do you know that sheep also share that distinction or that Highlands County has more head of cattle than people? How about this: Bees have special hair on their hind legs, which also comes equipped with a hook, to gather pollen that static electricity from the bees helps to loosen, and the pollen is then taken to the hives and packed with honey to make "bee bread." Third-graders from four Highlands County schools learned these bee factoids Tuesday from volunteer Richard Dunaway, as part of the three-day 14th annual Ag-Venture, a hands-on expo on everything agricultural. Event co-chairwoman Danielle Daum hopes the roughly 1,200 third-graders who will sample the 14 booths or "tracks" will know where their food comes from and how many jobs agriculture creates."These children will grow up to be taxpayers and voters," she reasoned. "They need to know how agriculture is important." For many students, Ag-Venture also is a chance to try new things, from something as simple as planting to perhaps something more exotic, like petting an alligator or even feeling the different kinds of grain. Third-grader Aulani Smith tried to keep up with volunteer Andrew Fells as he instructed a group of students on how to pot a strawberry cutting. The students later learned that strawberries each have 200 seeds on the outside and growers protect the fruit from frost by spraying them with water that turns into icicles and cushions the temperature of the berries. Aulani, who was potting a plant for the first time, said she had a good time. So did fellow students Coyanna Bellamy and Jalan Gordon, holding bags with goodies and playing with the signature Ag-Venture hats all third-graders get to take home. Even Park Elementary School third-grade teacher Courtney Murfield, who has been coming to Ag-Venture for nine years as a third-grade teacher, laughed when asked if she had learned something new this time. Murfield said Ag-Venture is a good, hands-on way for children to sample things they may only learn about from a textbook and further their science knowledge in meaningful way. Before their trip, her class gets an introduction on things they will encounter at the event, followed by a little quiz when the class returns. One of those quizzing the kids was volunteer Tracee Smoak, who was introducing them to Sweetie the heifer, Harley the horse and an assortment of other farm animals, including a sheep with a week-old lamb. When the students learned, for instance, that a horse is measured in human hands, they had to pencil it in on a sheet they all got. As part of the fun, they got to pet the critters and found out that animals also have bowel movements, no matter how disgusting they may smell and sound. "Eeeww," some of the students gathered around Sweetie screamed when she did something impolite. "It's part of the whole experience on a farm," Smoak smiled.