Two Oktibbeha County, Miss., women have been honored for their innovative program to give young students (and their parents) an up close and personal look at how their food and fiber originate.

The “Farmtastic” program, which over the two years since it was launched has reached several thousand area youngsters and their parents, earned the Mississippi Farm Bureau Federation’s Ag Ambassador award for Julie White and Nelda Starks. The award was presented at the MFBF annual meeting.

White is Mississippi State University Extension agent and county coordinator for Oktibbeha County at Starkville and serves as woman’s chair for the county Farm Bureau. Starks, a retired MSU Extension nutrition specialist and 4-H agent, is woman’s vice chair for the county Farm Bureau.

The Ambassador Award recognizes individuals who have gone beyond their normal range of activities in promoting Mississippi agriculture, says Mississippi Farm Bureau Federation President Randy Knight.

He notes that the award is not given every year, but “only when Farm Bureau feels it has been earned by someone who has done outstanding service for our state’s agriculture.”

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White says she developed the Farmtastic concept after hearing of similar events in other states and after she and Starks visited the Ag Magic event held at Louisiana State University-Baton Rouge.

“Nelda and I are very passionate about agriculture,” says White, who with her husband, William, also has a commercial cow-calf operation. “We were concerned, when we’d make school visits, that so many children had no idea about how their food and clothing came to be.

“In addition to the Ag in the Classroom program, we felt something like Farmtastic — a concerted effort over several days — could be successful.”

They suggested it at their county Farm Bureau board meeting and lined up support for the first event, held in November 2012 at the Mississippi Horse Park pavilion at Starkville. All area schools were invited to bring their third graders.

That event featured five different stations, spotlighting various aspects of agriculture. It was sponsored by the MSU Extension Service, the Oktibbeha County Farm Bureau, and other ag-related organizations.

“Kids could see farm animals up close, and they could interact with farmers and various ag experts to learn about Mississippi crops, forestry, and livestock,” White says. “Participation by area schools was excellent, and all the kids seemed to have a great time.”

SEE PHOTOS HERE of 2013 Farmtastic learning event for kids

The 2013 event was expanded to seven stations, including Barnyard Bonanza, Mighty Crops, Wonder Plants, Enchanted Forest, Farm Toys, FARM Village, and My Plate Theater.

“We had four days devoted to third graders from a five-county area: Oktibbeha, Webster, Winston, Choctaw, and Noxubee,” White says. “We had more than 1,000 students come through. Then, on Saturday morning, we invited the general public, and we estimate another 300 or so went through the exhibits.” In 2014, Clay and Lowndes counties will also participate and Farmtastic will be expanded to eight stations.

In addition to Farm Bureau, several university departments, several ag-related university student organizations, Extension personnel (both current and retired), local farmers, and community organizations pitched in to help with the event.

“The response has been very positive,” White says. “Teachers and parents have been very complimentary, and student pre- and post-testing showed students had improved their knowledge and understanding of agriculture.”

White and Starks said they were humbled by the Farm Bureau recognition and expressed appreciation to all who have helped to make the event a success. “It was a true team effort,” Starks says.

“We in agriculture need to get our message to children at a young age,” White says, “to make them aware that their food and fiber don’t just magically appear at the store — that at the very beginning there are farmers that make it happen.”