Area students participate in Osceola County Rural Education Days

LEROY – From training dogs to calling turkeys, petting calves and feeding cows, Reed City and Pine River fourth grade students learned about country life and agriculture during the 22nd annual Rural Education Days on Wednesday.

Students spent half of the day at Gingrich Meadows, where they toured a portion of the farm, learning about calf care, manure management, robotic milking and animal and human nutrition. The other portion of the day was spent at Rose Lake County Park, where they learned about water quality, training dogs, recreational safety, outdoor survival skills and wild turkeys.

Organized by Osceola County 4-H Coordinator Jake Stieg in partnership with the Osceola County Farm Bureau and Gingrich Meadows, Rural Education Days teaches children about the outdoors through an interactive experience.

“We give them education about agriculture and natural resources in a nontraditional classroom, which is outside,” Stieg said. “It is all hands-on. The kids are learning and they really retain this stuff, which is great.”

Stieg, who remembers attending the event as a student, said it is organized to benefit the many area children who have not been raised on a farm and it encourages them to engage with their environment.

“We want to make sure these kids understand that they can come outside to play and there is a lot they can play with, but they have to make sure they are safe,” he said.

Amy Martin, co-owner of Gingrich Meadows, said showing children where products come from is essential.

“They are our consumers,” Martin said. “If they don’t understand where their product is coming from, they are less likely to purchase it. It’s healthy. They need to know what their neighbors are doing and why we do what we do.

“It’s great to see the look on their faces when they pet a cow, see how big the cows are or let a calf suck on their fingers, even the ‘ohhing’ and ‘ahhing’ when a cow goes to the bathroom. They are not exposed to these things, so watching them learn is really exciting.”

Volunteers led the presentations at both Gingrich Meadows and Rose Lake County Park, sharing agricultural knowledge with students and helping them understand the value of natural resources.

Students gasped in disbelief as Tasha Lapinski, Michigan Agriculture Environmental Assurance Program technician, told them it takes 2.5 gallons of water to make one sheet of paper and 70 gallons to make one pound of plastic.

Children listened attentively as Jim Maturen demonstrated various wild turkey calls and they smiled and laughed as Mark Romanack and his dog, Mason, displayed the results of dedicated training.

“We love to see kids getting involved in the outdoors,” Romanack said. “Project RED is an excellent way to get kids outside.”

Romanack shared dog training tips and techniques with children, giving them a chance to try their hand at giving Mason commands.

“This is my favorite so far,” said Reed City student Jonathan Marr after successfully commanding Mason to retrieve a training toy.

In addition to the students who attended Rural Education Days on Wednesday, fourth graders from Evart Public Schools, Marion Public Schools and Big Jackson Public Schools as well as Mecosta-Osceola Intermediate School District Career Center students will attend today, totaling about 370 students.