WEST SALEM — More than 200 fourth-grade students learned how their food is produced during the annual Food for America event last week.
The event — organized by the Bangor and West Salem FFA and presented for students from Bangor and West Salem elementary schools, as well as Coulee Christian School and St. Paul’s Evangelical Lutheran School — aimed to teach students about what it takes to get raw ingredients from the farm to the grocery store shelves.
The event is part of a nationwide effort teach students about the vital role agriculture plays in their day-to-day lives.
“It’s a great experience,” West Salem Elementary School principal Ryan Rieber said. “I know our fourth-grade students enjoyed it.”
During the field trip, the fourth-graders were bused to three locations: the La Crosse County Fairgrounds, Linda and Randy Holthaus’ dairy farm and Old Oak Farms.
At each of these locations, the students were met by more than 40 FFA members from Bangor and West Salem who taught them about the plants, animals and equipment involved in food production.
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FFA adviser Rick Bierbrauer said fourth-graders are an ideal group to work with because agriculture is part of their curriculum.
He added the event is also a great opportunity for FFA chapter members to take on a leadership role.
At the fairgrounds, students had the chance to get up close and person with animals of all shapes and sizes, including chickens, goats and horses.
Bangor junior Daina Carlson, 17, was one of the FFA members participating in Food for America. During her presentation at the fairgrounds, she taught students about the different breeds of goats and what it takes to raise them.
“I am usually the favorite spot,” Carlson said, adding that she really enjoys watching the kids’ reactions as they played with the animals.
She said it was surprising how little the kids knew about the animals and how many questions they had.
FFA member Samantha Antony, a sophomore at West Salem High School, joined Carlson at the fairgrounds where she taught fourth-graders about raising chickens.
She told them how chickens are raised for meat production or to lay eggs.
She said the children really liked playing with chickens, including one boy who asked if he could take one home with him and then wandered off, chicken in hand.
At the Holthaus Dairy Farm, students had the opportunity to learn how cows are milked to produce the milk, cheese and butter Wisconsin is famous for.
Finally, at the Old Oaks Farm, students learned about organic produce and the equipment used to plant, fertilize and harvest it.
There, eighth-grade FFA member Dustin Heitcamp from Bangor took a leadership role during a tour of the farm. As part of the tour, he helped teach the fourth graders about vegetable production.
It was a natural fit for the young teen, who spends a lot of his spare time working with fruits and veggies. Heitcamp helps his parents with their two large gardens and helps take care of the school garden behind the elementary school.
Heitcamp was surprised by how interested how interested the kids were in the different vegetables.