City kids get farm lessons at NILE

2013-10-15T17:20:00Z 2013-10-19T11:30:17Z City kids get farm lessons at NILEBy TOM LUTEY tlutey@billingsgazette.com The Billings Gazette

Julianna Steinback stood in front of her class cradling a brownish sugar beet so large it resembled a molar plucked from a mastodon’s jaw.

At first she held it in the crook of her right arm like a baby while Yellowstone County Extension Agent Steve Lackman introduced Steinback’s fourth-grade class to the world of sugar. The class had traveled from Lockwood Elementary to MetraPark on Tuesday for an agriculture field trip to the Northern International Livestock Exposition.

The weeklong expo started Monday with an educational tour for children and then shifts into livestock events and four days of rodeo, which end Saturday.

This lesson was turning into a show and tell on gravity the longer Lackman spoke.

“Julianne is holding a beet I got from the sugar beet factory this morning,” Lackman said. “Everyone knows where the factory is?”

Steinbeck shifted the giant root to her other arm, then raised her right knee and inched it upward after it sagged toward her waist. This sugar stuff was hard work.

“I just didn’t really know how to hold it because of its shape and it looked dirty,” Steinbeck said. Its weight reminded her of a large pumpkin. And she had no idea the beets occupied area fields. “I thought they were grown in Idaho.”

Lackman got the kids straightened out on where beets and other crops come from. He made sure each got a cup of popcorn to snack on as he explained that wheat, barley, sugar beets, hay and corn were the area’s main crops.

One building over, the children were meeting with American Honey Princess Emily Campbell to learn about bees as they sucked on honey straws and watched a live colony at work in a hive assembled like an ant farm between two panes of glass. As the room warmed, the bees' buzzing became audible.

Beneath the grandstands of the MetraPark horse track, children sipped from paper cartons of Tru Moo chocolate milk, while listening to extension agent Ronnie Baker explain the origins of everything from lotion to pot roast and dairy products. Baker coached the children up on cows, lambs, goats, pigs and chickens and then turned them loose to check out the animals.

“I know that rooster is probably one of the fighting ones,” Makaylaa Beltran informed some classmates. Beltran has hens at home, which on this field trip meant she had some demonstrating of her own to do. She knew that hens can lay one egg a day. As for her her roosters, they had to be sold after a few dustups. “If you see there’s a spur, then it fights.”

The field trips take a few hours. Organizer Laverne Ivy, administrator of the Yellowstone Conservation District, said that more than 1,600 children will pass through the event organized by her group and the NILE.

Ivy, who has been part of the Monday-through-Wednesday event for a several decades, said the program targets urban kids who know little or nothing about agriculture. When the children weren’t learning about food, they were being coached about water and soil erosion, noxious weeds and range science.

The scheduled tours end Wednesday at 11:30 a.m.

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