The LSU AgCenter participates in a variety of ongoing projects designed to teach young people and adults that much of their food, clothing and other necessities begin with farmers.
"Many people think food comes from the grocery store; they don’t know a whole lot goes on before it reaches the store," LSU AgCenter Chancellor Bill Richardson said. "We want to break that trend by showing them that such industries as vegetable production and cattle production are integral parts in the food chain."
Richardson says the LSU AgCenter also works to let people know the importance of the state’s largest agricultural industry, forestry, in producing lumber for houses, wood products for furniture and much more. And, of course, the state’s cotton producers contribute the raw materials for everything from jeans and khakis to formal wear.
One example of a recent educational activity conducted by the LSU AgCenter and others was the successful Ag Alley that was part of the Northeast Louisiana Ag Expo.
Ag Alley contained exhibits featuring cotton, forestry and poultry, as well as a variety of other interactive displays for visitors.
LSU AgCenter agent Cynthia Stephens, who helped to organize and present the event in Monroe, said it was orchestrated with Louisiana students in mind.
"We wanted to set up a hands-on display about Louisiana's agricultural products that the students would both enjoy and learn from," Stephens said. "We also wanted the program to mesh with what they need to learn for taking their LEAP tests."
Josh Davis, an 11 year old who visited Ag Alley, said it was very interesting.
"I’ve never seen a cotton plant before," he said. "And, I don’t know too much about trees. But I do like looking at all this stuff. I especially like the animals."
Davis did have a little background with chickens, though.
"My pawpaw has chickens behind his house," Davis said. "He picks up the eggs every day, but he doesn’t let me, because he’s afraid I’ll break them."
New Orleans students had a similar experience in December with "Ag Awareness Day." About 400 students and teachers participated in the event that was designed to teach how agriculture affects their daily lives.
The event is presented each year by the LSU AgCenter in cooperation with the Greater New Orleans Ag Coalition.
In another event, St. James Parish students take part in the "Fast Food Farm," where vegetables used to make fast foods are grown. The site also includes other facilities that are being fixed up to house a lab for the children to use.
"The children participate in planting, tending and harvesting the food while it grows," said Coleen B. Laiche, an LSU AgCenter agent in St. James Parish. "All the tools they need for working in the garden are available."
Food grown at the "Fast Food Farm" is donated to the needy and to organizations that serve them.
A similar project was conducted at the LSU AgCenter’s Grant Walker 4-H Educational Center this past summer. As part of that project, which involved the LSU AgCenter, along with the Louisiana Farm Bureau Federation, the Work Training Facility North and the Food Bank of Central Louisiana, 4-H’ers attending summer camp planted and tended a garden of tomatoes, cucumbers, peas, squash and zucchini to give to people who come to the Food Bank.
The 4-H’ers also brought canned goods to summer camp for the Food Bank.
That project and others designed to serve the less fortunate are among the hallmarks of the Louisiana 4-H, which is targeted toward helping young people learn skills and attitudes that will be important to them throughout their lives.
"Learn by doing" is the 4-H club slogan, said Terril Faul, division leader for the LSU AgCenter’s Department of 4-H Youth Development.
"4-H members don't just read about things; they do them," Faul said. "Students in 4-H make things. They take part in club meetings. They learn interesting new things. They learn to follow, and they learn to lead. They help their neighbors and their neighborhoods through club activities."
Louisiana students in grades 4-12 can join 4-H. There also are collegiate 4-H Clubs at colleges and universities around the state.
In addition to the more traditional 4-H Club program and the topics students can study as part of that program, the variety of agriculturally related educational activities also are reaching out to even more young people.
Among those is another new attraction coming this spring that also will teach children and adults about agriculture.
That activity, dubbed "Ag Magic," replaces the mini-farm that formerly was conducted as part of the LSU AgCenter’s state livestock show.
It will take place April 20-29 in Parker Coliseum on the LSU Campus in Baton Rouge, and the activities and exhibits are being planned around five major themes – "Farm Animals In Your Life," "Farmers Wear Many Hats," "Getting Your
Garden Growing," "Forestry Is The No. 1 Ag Industry In Louisiana" and "Aquaculture," which will feature crawfish, catfish and alligators.
"There also will be farm machinery on display for children to explore," said Frankie Gould, LSU AgCenter communications director, who is in charge of Ag Magic along with Debbie Hurlbert from the LSU AgCenter’s 4-H department.
For more information on these and the variety of other educational activities on topics ranging from nutrition to family finances, go to www.lsuagcenter.com or call your parish LSU AgCenter office.
Denise Coolman and Tom Merrill are writers for the LSU AgCenter.