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Expose Your Kids To Agriculture

Let’s face it. We are living in an era where people do not fully understand where their food originates. We are living in an era where urbanization is spreading like wildfire. We are living in an era where there is a decline in rural populations. Yes, we are living in an era where for the first time in history most of the world’s population lives in a city.

Enter agriculture (ag).

Enter youth.

Enter my nearly 4-year old grandson – Jackson Edward Wagner.

Recently, Jackson, my son-Zach (his dad), my wife-Polly (his grandma) and I ventured to the family farm to observe and engage in the annual fall soybean harvest with our farmer, producer friends. The intrigue and fun factor levels were high!

My grandson, Jackson, is pictured with farmer, Trevor Scholting of rural Springfield, NE and his combine, after soybeans were harvested on our rural southeast Nebraska family farm. Photo by Greg Wagner/Nebraska Game and Parks Commission.

The purpose of the trip was for Jackson to comprehend where his food is derived plus experience the combines, tractors, grain carts, boll buggies and grain-hauling semi- trucks associated with the harvest.

An excited nearly 4 year-old, Jackson Edward Wagner, is shown with his father, Zachary Wagner, sitting in a combine while it idles on our southeast Nebraska farm. Photo by Greg Wagner/Nebraska Game and Parks Commission.

Farm visits are important to challenge ignorance and misconceptions about farming at young ages. These visits are very important in a state such as Nebraska where 97 percent of the land is privately owned and agriculture is the top industry. The stops to chat with farmers challenge traditional stereotypes of agriculture and according to one farmer friend of mine, overcome the “get off my land” perception. Many of these rural folks also enjoy talking about outdoor activities like hunting and fishing.

Farmers almost everywhere are always glad to share the knowledge of their work with youth and others, especially during the harvest season. And, it is not difficult to find them in Nebraska driving rural county roads. You just need to be respectful with asking permission to safely witness the process and pick up a handful of beans or corn to show your kids. The key thing is not to halt the harvest operation.

A combine harvests a soybean field on our rural southeast Nebraska farm. Photo by Greg Wagner/Nebraska Game and Parks Commission.

Witnessing agriculture in action teaches kids to have a greater appreciation for food. Spending an hour or two or even the better part of a day on a farm during harvest will change the way you and your children see what you eat. Food becomes a treasured reward not just something that comes from a store in a pretty package. Studies show kids who can experience their foods firsthand are more likely to waste less and eat a greater variety of them.

Here is a quick video clip I took of a combine harvesting a soybean field on our southeast Nebraska farm.

As an outdoor educator, it has always fascinated me how many kids do not know where their food comes from or what their food really is. Milk, they repetitively tell me, is from a plastic container and bread, they repeatedly remark, is from a plastic bag. The kids consider vegetables as flavorless, odd-shaped mystery food items that they are forced to eat. Kids benefit knowing where their food is sourced and the interesting process of how food is brought from the farm to the table.

My grandson, Jackson, and my son (his dad), Zachary, walk through a picked or harvested soybean field in southeast Nebraska with beans in hand. Photo by Polly Wagner of Omaha, NE.

Agriculture provides most of the world’s food and fabrics but is inextricably linked to nature, too. Weather cycles, climatic changes and pollinators that impact wild plants, impact crops. Wildlife (deer, turkey, etc.) eat various wild-grown plants but also feed on some planted ag crops, leftover crop residue and any crops left in hard-to-harvest places next to cover.

Unharvested soybeans left for wildlife in a hard-to-combine area adjacent to cover on our southeast Nebraska family farm. Photo by Greg Wagner/Nebraska Game and Parks Commission.

The habitat edges of agricultural fields are also wonderful locations to view different kinds of birds and various other wildlife.

Hunting the habitat edges of agricultural fields that have corn, soybeans and other crops planted on them every year are no doubt great places to find lots of deer, turkey and other game.

A white-tailed deer doe is spotted in an unharvested soybean field in rural southeast Nebraska. Photo by Greg Wagner/Nebraska Game and Parks Commission.

Kids should also know local agricultural food production also consumes low amounts of energy and recycles carbon, nitrogen and other nutrients. The diversity of plants and even livestock on a farm is mutually sustainable, and farmers I know conserve and preserve soil and water as if their lives depend on it.

If you delve into history, you will find Native American Tribes such as the Pawnee in Nebraska relied on agriculture so strongly that other forms of subsistence such as hunting, gathering, foraging and fishing all flowed around the seasons for tribal women to plant and prepare the fields of corn, beans, squash and sunflowers for harvest.

This contact, with agriculture, such as it is today, between land and people is now close to nonexistent. Let’s reverse that trend!

I explain to my grandson, Jackson, what is happening with this scenario on our southeast Nebraska family farm as a combine offloads its harvested soybeans in a grain cart. Photo by Polly Wagner of Omaha, NE.

About greg wagner

A native of Gretna, NE, a graduate of Gretna High School and Bellevue University, Greg Wagner currently serves as the Public Information Officer and Manager for the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission's Service Center in Omaha. On a weekly basis, Wagner can be heard on a number of radio stations, seen on local television in Omaha, and on social media channels, creatively conveying natural resource conservation messages as well as promoting outdoor activities and destinations in Nebraska. Wagner, whose career at Game and Parks began in 1979, walks, talks, lives, breathes and blogs about Nebraska’s outdoors. He grew up in rural Gretna, building forts in the woods, hunting, fishing, collecting leaves, and generally thriving on constant outdoor activity. One of the primary goals of his blog is to get people, especially young ones, to have fun and spend time outside!

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