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UK farm visit connects students to forages

Sydney Beidleman, center, UK forage intern, helps Millcreek Elementary students identify weeds.

PHOTO: Katie Pratt, UK Agricultural Communications
Lexington, Ky.

Kentucky has a reputation for producing quality forages to feed its well-known livestock and equine industries, but Lexington’s skyline can keep many residents from seeing the grasses that blanket the area’s iconic rolling landscape. A field trip to the University of Kentucky’s Spindletop and Maine Chance research farms gave Millcreek Elementary School students the opportunity to get out of the city and learn about the pastures for which Kentucky is so famous.

The UK Forage Extension group in the College of Agriculture, Food and Environment organized the field trip with Dawn Keith, Millcreek Elementary summer program coordinator. Keith approached the forages group about a field trip to the farms this summer after they did a presentation at the school in April.

“Most of these kids are from the city or the suburbs, and only a few of them have any kind of farm background,” said Ray Smith, UK extension forage specialist. “We wanted to show them where their food comes from, how horses are raised and the kinds of things horses eat, so they have an understanding of Kentucky agriculture.”

Students who attended the field trip were incoming third- through sixth-graders who were part of the school’s Lion’s Den Club. The Lion’s Den is a 21st Century Community Learning Center at The Academy for Leadership at Millcreek Elementary. Students in the club volunteered to attend school for four weeks this summer to learn more about reading, math, science, engineering and technology.

“We’ve been taking a couple of field trips, and this one gets the kids outside, gets them learning about plants and how to identify different grasses,” said Kristen Witt, Millcreek Elementary teacher for science, technology, engineering and mathematics. “I hope they take away how fun it is to be outdoors and to learn about science.”

Students rotated through several educational stations on the farms. They planted a pea seed to take home at a stop where they learned about seeds and soils. Members of the UK forages team walked the students through a typical horse pasture and helped the elementary students identify and collect different grasses and weeds. The students helped the UK forages group by collecting seeds from a field containing Woodford Big Flower Vetch, a forage that is nearly extinct, although small populations continue to grow at Spindletop. The UK forages group plans to use the seed to plant at other locations on the farm. The students also went through a maze carved out of a switchgrass plot.

For fifth-grader Ester Maksimenko and sixth-grader Akasha Glover, the field trip exceeded their expectations.

“It was fun learning about all these different types of plants and how they grow, doing the maze and going on the scavenger hunt,” Maksimenko said.

“I thought we were just going to learn about stuff and not do anything fun, but we did a lot of fun things, and I loved it,” said Glover, who wants to pursue a science-based career.

Krista Lea, UK research analyst, said one of the goals of the day was to interest kids in agriculture and science.

“Many of them said this was the first time they had ever been out on a farm. It’s really cool to get them out here and to see what UK offers,” she said. “Maybe they’ll want to come to school here one day, but even if they don’t, they’ll just have a better appreciation of agriculture.”

Contact: 

Ray Smith, 859-257-3358; Krista Lea, 859-323-1952

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