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Ag-stravaganza teaches kids about agriculture

Joe McIntyre/staff photographer

Gerald Todd of the American Harness Driving Club, of Locke, talks with school children Thursday, including Homer fourth-grader Allie Dean, during Ag-stravaganza at the Cortland County Fairgrounds in Cortlandville.

For some of the kids, Thursday morning’s adventure was the closest they had ever been to a farm animal: cows, chicken, sheep, even a pony and cart.

For 9-year-old Allie Dean of Homer, the horse station, with its pony was enticing and she just had to get on the cart, Allie said. “It felt like I was going to fall off.”

That’s Ag-stravaganza. Thirteen classes of fourth graders from four schools ventured around the Cortland County Fairgrounds on Thursday morning during the final day of the two-day long event funded by a grant through the New York Standardbred Owners Association, said Heather Birdsall, event coordinator and senior agriculture team leader for Cornell Cooperative Extension.

For more than 20 years the event has introduced children to agriculture. “The main purpose is to teach them where their food comes from and the importance of agriculture,” Birdsall said.

For eight years Gerald and Georgianna Todd of Locke have been presenting at the event. Their booth, an 8-year-old mare, R.S. Bail Me Out, and a cart.

More than 20 fourth-graders watched as Gerald Todd explained the use of a bridle, harness and whip. The children jumped when he struck the whip against the table. “You never hit a horse like that,” he said.

The Todds have been presenting at Ag-stravaganza for eight years, but this will be their last. Gerald is 77 and standing has become a bother.

Just across the barn from the Todds was 14-year-old Cody Wilk of Cortland and his assortment of chickens and roosters. Wilk has presented chickens for three years. “It’s fun and good for volunteer work.”

Once again around 20 students looked on as Wilk held a large rooster and explained its anatomy and behavior.
While presenting at the event Wednesday he was interrupted by a screeching rooster. At one point Wednesday, a chicken got loose and walked across the table, knocking feed everywhere as children laughed.

While Wilk knows his birds, one question did stump him. “How many breeds (of chickens) are there,” Wilk said.
Montana Eldridge, 10, of Homer, said her favorite part of the day was seeing all the animals. “I love animals,” the sheep in particular.

Homer fourth-grader Mark Conger, 10, also liked the sheep. “I liked seeing the baby and seeing the farmer shave the mom.”

Outside of the barn in the show ring, Matt Sharpe said many children at Ag-stravaganza had previously only ever seen a cow in a field. His booth allowed children to stare a cow and calf straight in the eyes and even pet them. “The cow likes the attention.”

Sharpe remembers walking the fairgrounds as a fourth-grader and later during his senior year he took over the dairy booth, he said. Sharpe has crammed in his presentation into 10 minutes to allow five minutes for questions and children to interact with the animals. “They ask a lot of questions.”

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