Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Ag Fest teaches 10 lessons to a volunteer

Brent Searle and his wife Shelley help teach four-year-old Mikayla Wolf how to make a "living necklace" out of a wet cotton ball, bean, plastic bag and piece of string. Parents Samantha and Brent Wolf watch during Ag Fest, held in Salem April 29-30.

By Elaine Shein

SALEM — Last weekend, more than 17,000 kids visited Ag Fest in Salem, Ore., to learn more about agriculture, especially in an interactive, hands-on way.

After dealing single-handedly with what seemed to be several thousand, although since it was only a three or four-hour shift as a volunteer I may be mildly exaggerating, I found that I had learned a lot from the kids themselves.

First, some background. My modest role, as a volunteer for the Oregon Ag in the Classroom Foundation, seemed simple enough. At least, that was what I was told by AITC’s program director, Tami Kerr, and a former AITC president, Brent Searle.

In his day job, Brent is a special assistant of Director Katy Coba at the Oregon Department of Agriculture. However last weekend Brent, with the assistance of his wife Shelley, could be found leaning over a big container of wet cotton balls and teaching kids how to grow a miraculous bean plant.

When I arrived for my shift, Brent looked relieved and exhausted, but was doing a great job interacting with the kids. His wife also did a super job helping out. Together they assured me the task was simple and really rewarding.

Introduce to the children the exciting concept of living necklaces. Encourage them to take a wet cotton ball, flatten it like a pancake to take out the excess water, place a kidney bean in the center, fold it over like a hotdog to hide the bean, place it in a small plastic bag that had a string attached, and ask the child to take it home and place it in a nice sunny spot for a few days. Voila: a bean should sprout and begin to grow.

There were even people who freely gave testimonials that the bean experiment was so successful that in the past, bean plants were moved outside into garden soil and grew into tall healthy bean plants.

I still cannot verify that anyone named Jack climbed these huge beanstalks to raise his income by a giant profit, but many sources mentioned Jack.

Kerr offered great encouragement, repeating several times that she believed it was a good experience for AITC board members to help out at Ag Fest and experience firsthand what she does do often in classrooms around the state and at events such as this.

While teaching kids to appreciate and understand agriculture, I also learned a few lessons myself.

The valuable lessons included:
1) Mingling chewing gum with cotton balls is never a good thing.

2) Never ask a child holding a lollipop in one hand, an ice cream cone in another, to use both hands to help with an activity. The child will shrug and drop one or both items anywhere without a second thought. Look desperately for a nearby mother or a compassionate grandmotherly-type stranger to help out.

3) Drink lots of fluids since it’s easy to lose one’s voice after repeating over and over again “So, would you like to make a living necklace out of a bean and a cotton ball?”

4) After losing one’s voice, being a mime with kids is not the most effective way to get their attention, unless you’re trapped in an invisible box and are painted like a clown and you are expected not to have a voice. Otherwise, you are only mildly amusing to the children and very scary to their parents.

5) Never force parents to take home bean plants that they really don’t want in their house. Chasing them down and begging them to take the plants their kids made won’t help the situation. Explaining that a bean plant is much less maintenance than a puppy also does not earn points with the parents. They will now despise you for mentioning a puppy.

6) Telling the children of vegetarians to fold a cotton ball over the bean “like a hotdog” really leads to bewildering looks. Say “like a blanket” instead.

7) Asking a child to gently flatten a wet cotton ball and squeeze out the water like a pancake will not always be the best advice to give. They miss the “gently” part and slap and squish and mangle the poor cotton ball heartily until it is gasping for even a drop of water.

8) If the child has just come from the “how to make a dirt baby” booth, be prepared to see the cotton balls become rather brown, grimey wads of cotton. Consider the soil as extra nourishment for the bean.

9) After child mixes chewing gum, lollipop, ice cream cone, wet cotton ball and a bean, hastily move unto the next child while the parent desperately attempts to settle the mess. And finally,

10) Never forget to tell all the children out loud what a super job they are doing, then later whisper to the parent to go home and add more water or change the bean. “Any bean will do … really … just hide it in the cotton, add water and sun, and pretend it’s the same bean! Just like what you did with their pet hamsters in the past!"

I have whole new appreciation for what Tami and others do when they help teach kids hands-on lessons about agriculture.

And I brought home a couple bean living necklaces myself to see how they will grow.

Perhaps in a few days I will update readers of this blog on what happened, and provide pictures of the great success that may take place.

Or I’ll go shopping for more beans and cotton.

Oregon Ag Fest

No comments:

Ag in the West social media watch

Capital Press videos on YouTube

Our most popular videos