Working with the Future

One of the big events of the agricultural year in my area is Kids’ Day on the Farm. It’s an annual event where the Kankakee Soil and Water Conservation District, the Kankakee County Farm Bureau, the local University of Illinois Extension, WKAN radio, and the Kankakee County Fair and Exposition come together to hold an event to teach local 4th graders about agriculture. After all, we’re a very agriculturally active county, it’s important that these young’uns understand what’s going on in their own back yards!

Set up bit like a trade show or an expo, this event is held in the county’s expo building on the fairgrounds. Each presenter (this year, there were around 25 or so) has a table decked out with props, displays, gadgets, samples, and other do-dads to help communicate with this kids. In years past, I’ve talked about rabbits and husbandry. Today, I got the unique experience to present on another growing passion of mine: corn!
I worked alongside Keith Yohnka, who is President of the Kankakee County Corn Growers Assocation. (Yes, he’s a familiar face in this blog.) As a bigger guy, he might come off as intimidating to the kids, but he works with them well. Standing next to him, I looked like a 4th-grader myself. (I was also significantly more nervous than him, as I wasn’t as confident about the facts I was offering up. So many statistics!) I should also note, Tim Yohnka (Keith’s son) was a valuable presenter on this subject the previous day, but was asked to take over another booth. That left me as Keith’s assistant/student.
We taught these kids about ethanol, biodegradable plastics, biodegradable styrofoam substitutes, dry distiller’s grains, the use of corn in food, and the jobs that corn and corn processing can create for the United States. We showed them video of E85-powered pulling trucks. We also had pictures of ethanol-powered dragsters and Indy cars, as well as a model of Mark Thompson’s ethanol-powered funny car. The kids were great, and had plenty of questions. We finished off each presentation with a challenge:
Name something in your everyday life that wouldn’t contain corn.
Of course, we had some kids who threw out the obvious answers. Metal, wood, fruits and vegetables. We did try our best to make the connections, though! (“Wood and metal polishes and cleaners are often made with corn!” And, “The fertilizers used to grow good fruits and veggies could have corn in them.”)
Plastics, soda pops, dishes, dog food, medicines, tires, furniture, bedding, clothes…kids who listed these off seemed a little disappointed that they couldn’t beat us, but were also amazed by how many things corn was used to make.
It’s important that these kids, and kids everywhere, know about these things. They’re the ones who will be dictating corn production someday. Maybe someday, when they’re old enough to vote, they’ll think about the issues important to them and remember the burly farmer, his son, and petite college student who tried to teach them about corn’s importance. These outreach experiences are priceless; I wouldn’t trade the last two days for anything. I like to think the work we did was not in vain, and that these kids will have taken something valuable with them when they left the fairgrounds today.
(Also, I plan on posting pictures from today and yesterday on tomorrow’s post. It’ll be a special Kids Day Friday!)

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