Rural Education Days teaches students about agriculture

LEROY — Project RED — Rural Education Days — took place May 18 and19 at Gingrich Farms and Rose Lake Park. 

The sun was shining but the temperatures were on the chilly side as 333 fourth-graders from Reed City, Marion, Evart and Pine River schools spent their day split between Gingrich Farms and Rose Lake Park. 

“This is the 24th year for the event,” said Jake Stieg, 4-H coordinator. “Project RED is coordinated through the collaborate efforts of MSU Extension, 4-H, Osceola County Farm Bureau and the Gingrich family.”

“So many children have no exposure to agriculture and natural resources,” said Janet Schmidt, with the Osceola County Farm Bureau. “Rural Education Days is a chance for kids to have a hands-on experience.”

Students learned first-hand about the local agriculture industry by visiting various stations at Gingrich Farms. They toured the robotic milking system that has been in operation for four years. Students saw cows go from the holding pen into the parlor to be milked. 

Amy Martin explained how robots milk each cow and that a computer tracks and records how much milk each cow gives. Cows receive grain based on the amount of milk production and cows are milked three times a day. 

Renee Sternhagen, a semen representative with Semex, talked about the amount and types of feed fed to the dairy cows. The most popular station was the baby calves. Katie Nicklas explained how the baby calves are raised. Several students got to touch a baby calf and let it suck their fingers.

Nancy Petree, MSU Extension SNAP-Ed instructor, led another station. She talked to the students about seeds bringing life, growing plants, health and nutrition. Jerry Lindquist, with MSU Extension, told the students the manure they smell is really money to farmers. The 400 cows on the Gingrich farm make about 4,800 gallons of manure daily. Farmers use the manure to fertilize their ground, saving them thousands of dollars.

On the Rose Lake Park side, Jim Maturen told the students how turkeys were almost extinct in the early 1900s. Turkeys are now in almost every county in Michigan thanks to the birds first being planted in the Baldwin area and parts of Osceola County in the 1950s.

Renee Sanders, MSU Extension SNAP-Ed instructor, talked to the students about nutrition. 

“Milk is a good source of calcium, protein and Vitamin D,” Sanders said. “I demonstrated how to make a fruit smoothie using a blender on a stationary bike. Some of the fourth-graders got a chance to peddle the bike and had smoothies made within five minutes.”

A popular station was “Dog Gone Labs” with Mark Romanack and his family. Students were able to interact with his dog, Drake, and learned tips on how to train a dog.

Deputy Andy Salinas, with the Osceola County Sheriff’s Department, talked to the students about recreational safety and the importance of wearing a helmet and goggles when riding ORVs. He also said life jackets are a must when riding in a boat.

Brooke Whipple, with Flower Bucket Farm, talked to the students about surviving in the wilderness. She has a degree in outdoor education and has spent a lot of time living in Alaska as a guide. Groups of students learned how to start a fire using a cotton ball and magnesium stick. Whipple’s presentation taught the students what to do if they are ever lost.

“The Osceola County Farm Bureau appreciates the many hardworking volunteers and the behind-the-scenes helpers and the generous sponsoring businesses that helped make the annual event possible, said Schmidt.