COLUMBUS, Ohio – George Keeney, manager of Ohio State University's Insectary in the Department of Entomology, pulls an insect from a clear plastic container for a group of attentive fourth-and fifth-grade students.
"It's a scorpion!" yells one student, as others "ooh" and "ahh."
Well, not exactly. The insect, which looks intimidating, is actually a harmless Australian walking stick. But it was the kind of excitement that could be witnessed throughout the day as over 600 central Ohio students recently made their way through Ohio State's College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences campus for Scarlet and Gray Ag Day.
The entomology display, where students learned about various insects and their role in nature, was just one of nearly 20 sessions that offered students a hands-on opportunity to learn about the many facets of agriculture. From sausage-making to wool-shearing to food safety, the students got a taste of topics they normally wouldn't find in their school curriculum. Click here for a video about the program.
"There continues to be a disconnect between people and understanding where their food comes from, so there is a growing need to educate them not only where their food comes from, but agriculture in general," said Leslie Risch, Scarlet and Gray Ag Day advisor. "So we try to encourage students and their teachers to join us for this annual one-day outreach event. We try to reach out to the community through the different schools so we can share what we have to offer and share the research and education our faculty and staff are teaching here at the university, so that youth are more aware of what's going with their food and their world."
The theme of this year's event was "Inspiring Hunger Fighters," a tribute to the legacy of Norman Borlaug – agronomist, humanitarian, and Nobel Peace Prize winner. Scarlet and Gray Ag Day organizers felt it important that students learn more about the father of the "Green Revolution" and why agriculture is so important in people's lives.
"By the year 2050 we are going to have 11 billion people on this planet and we have got to find a way to feed them. Agriculture sustains our lives in every way. The consumer of today and tomorrow really needs to understand how complex that industry is," said Micki Zartman, founder of Scarlet and Gray Ag Day. "When we bring students to Scarlet and Gray Ag Day, they realize there are a myriad of opportunities for them that they can be involved in that they wouldn't have even considered. These kids are the best and brightest and have the skills to solve these issues we are facing to feeding the world."
Visiting dignitaries prominent in agriculture and global food security helped to educate the students, teachers and parents who attended the day-long event. One guest, Norman Borlaug's granddaughter Julie Borlaug, was thrilled to have the opportunity to attend Scarlet and Gray Ag Day.
"It's been fabulous to see fourth-and fifth-graders who are so far removed from agriculture experience it and enjoy learning about it. The fact they are going to walk away with a better understanding of agriculture and the hopes they will follow a career in agriculture, it was just a dream for my grandfather," said Borlaug, assistant director of partnerships at the Borlaug Institute for International Agriculture at Texas A&M.
Borlaug briefly addressed the students during the lunch sessions and shared with them her grandfather's ideas.
"I wanted to point out three characteristics that really shaped my grandfather: the role of education, the role of sports and the role of a moment that formed him, and that was what he saw during The Great Depression," said Borlaug. "I just wanted to remind the kids to take pride in their education. With any type of extracurricular activity, understand teamwork and winning and losing. And with defining a moment, I hope I can instill in them that they too can make a change. At some point in their life if they stay dedicated to something, they too can change the world."
The message was not lost on Delaney Zartman, a student at Tree of Life in Dublin, Ohio.
"I can take that knowledge that I'm learning today and use it later in my life," said Zartman, who has plans to conduct missionary work in developing countries when she grows older.
Scarlet and Gray Ag Day organizers strive to inspire youth, such as Delaney Zartman, to become more interested or involved in addressing agricultural topics and issues, such as bioenergy, world hunger and food security. Their hope is that the education the students are receiving today will translate into an agricultural career in the future.
For more information about Scarlet and Gray Ag Day, log on to http://www.ag.ohio-state.edu/~sg-agday/.