Daylong Cram Course in Agriculture

4/21/2012 10:00 AM
By Kelly Hatton Central Pa. Correspondent

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — Alumni Hall at Penn State University’s campus was crowded with booths and students on April 12 for the University’s Ag Day.

Forty university clubs and departments from the College of Agricultural Sciences were onsite to speak with the estimated crowd of 3,000 students and community members who attended the event over the course of the day.

Students walked through the hall, visiting exhibits, asking questions and learning about different aspects of the food system. Outside on the lawn, Penn State livestock and biodiesel tractors were also on display.

Penn State student Lauren Diebel, co-chairwoman of the event, helped students transplant ornamental plant starts into plastic cups to take home. The purpose of Ag Day, she said, is to reach out to students who aren’t necessarily involved with the College of Agriculture.

“We want to show them how they are connected to agriculture and their food,” she said.

Diebel’s colleague, co-chairman Andrew Schlegel, said they hoped Ag Day would challenge stereotypes about agriculture and show that “it’s about more than farming.”

Food science, horticulture, animal science and ecology all fill important roles within the food system and were represented at the event, Schlegel said. Both Diebel and Schlegel are members of Ag Advocates, the student group that has organized Ag Day on campus for the past four years.

Pollinators were the topic of conversation at the Pesticide Education Network’s exhibit, which used two plates to illustrate the role pollinators play in the food supply.

“Which plate would you choose?” Penn State Extension’s Kelly Over asked students who stopped at the booth. On the table were two choices, one loaded with the fixings of a summer barbecue — hamburger, tomato, cheese, relish and a side of fruit, and another, meager by comparison, with a bun, slice of cheese and piece of lettuce.

Without pollinating insects, such as honeybees and butterflies, Over said, the variety of food on our plates would be greatly reduced.

“Since Ag Day is all about food, we wanted to do something directly related to our food supply,” she said. “We’re here to teach students about pollinators: what they are, what they do, why they’re important and how to use pesticides safely around them.”

Across the way, student representatives from Collegiate Cattlewomen spoke with students about their organization and experiences raising cattle. Kristin Biglow, Christy Graver and Kristen Stufft all grew up on Pennsylvania dairy and cattle farms, an experience that seems novel to many of their fellow Penn State students, and the three were eager to describe their experiences and dispel misconceptions about the industry.

“A lot of people are surprised when I tell them how well the cows are treated on our farm,” Stufft said.

Megan Seigworth, a senior studying agricultural sciences who was representing the Horticulture Club, spoke with students about the benefits of green roofs and living walls, and the advantages these green technologies present when planning sustainable cities.

Seigworth also talked to students about food labels and the different meanings of the word “organic” at the grocery store. She noted that while students showed an interest in learning about food production and labeling, most had limited understanding of where their food comes from.

Representatives of the Collegiate Farm Bureau tested student knowledge of food origins at their booth, where students spun a wheel of food products and matched the product with the photos of different producers spread over the table.

Most participants got the matches easily — bees with honey, pigs with bacon. The struggle for most, said student Alyssa Sheppard, was distinguishing the dairy cow from the steer.

After visiting three exhibitors, students were invited to a cone of ice cream from Penn State’s Berkey Creamery. Participants left the hall with ice cream in hand, and perhaps a greater appreciation of the work behind every scoop.

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