Neosho fifth graders traded their desks for hay bales when they headed for the school farm to enjoy the annual Food For America event on Wednesday.
Each year, members of the Neosho High School Future Farmers of America chapter host the event to educate students about all aspects of agriculture while having some fun.
More than 300 students arrived at the school farm by 9 a.m. on Wednesday and were divided into groups. Accompanied by their teachers, a few parent volunteers, and a designated FFA student, each group made the rounds of more than thirty different stations placed around the acreage.
Stations ranged from poultry, goats, pigs, both beef and dairy cattle, hunting, fishing, soils, welding, honey, butter and ice cream, crops such as corn and beans, tractor rides, trapping, and more.
At the poultry station, Austin Barker educated the kids about poultry.
"Lots of different birds are used for production," he said, as the students sat on hay bales. "Chicken, turkey, ducks are some and then there are the exotics like emus and ostriches."
When it comes to chickens, Barker told students they're divided into two groups.
"There are two main types of chickens, broilers for meat and layers for eggs."
Barker had his chicken, Nubs, with him as he taught. Nubs has no feet but despite that the chicken has learned to walk.
"When this one was born, I had it living in the house for awhile until it learned to walk," he said. "I used to have a lot more chickens but in the Goodman tornado, a tree fell on the coop and they got out. A lot of them were eaten by various critters."
Students were able to hold baby chicks which elicited smiles and a few giggles.
At the beef cattle station, junior Zack Sharp not only displayed some of the Black Angus cattle he raises but also some roping skills. Outside of school, Sharp participates in rodeos as a team roper.
The cattle, however, are his supervised agriculture experience or SAE.
"I started with five cows and paid $4,500," he said. "I currently have five cow/calf pairs. Each year, I sell calves. The first year, I made almost all of it back. This year, it will be almost pure profit."
For Sharp, his cows are more than just a school project. He plans on owning a farm and raising cattle in the future. Farm life and raising cattle are very familiar.
"My whole family raises cattle," he said. "I've been around horses and cattle all of my life. This is what I want to do. My family raises around 200 head of cattle. Every since I was younger, my grandpa has raised registered Limousin cattle."
Sharp wants the kids who attend Food For America to take away a new understanding of how food reaches their dinner table.
"I want the kids to see there's more than the killing," he said. "They have to understand that we feed America. They need to see how cattle are raised. I want the kids to see they're not wild cattle. They just need to know how good it (agriculture) is for the country and how it works."
When students asked if they could pet his Black Angus cows, he smiled and said, "No, I wouldn't recommend it but you might be able to pet the dairy cows at the next station."
Next he explained the difference between a cow and a heifer, noting for students that a cow has had at least one calf.
Sharp traveled to Lone Star Beef, a meat processing plant in San Angelo, Texas recently to observe every step.
"I love the entire process," he said. "From pasture to the store to the table."
After high school, Sharp plans to attend college and major in Livestock Management. Right now, he's considering Northeastern Oklahoma A & M in Miami, Oklahoma. His eventual plans are to own a farm and raise cattle.
Sponsors who partnered with FFA for the event include Legacy Farm and Lawn, Walt's Tractor, Talley Tire, New Mac Electric Company, and University of Missouri Extension.
In addition to the Neosho agriculture teachers, fifth grade teachers, and parent volunteers, Neosho school farm manager David Brumback was on hand for the event.
A vintage farm house still stands on the property which became the Neosho school farm in the mid-1960's.
"There's a lot of history here," Brumback said.
The Neosho school farm is located on Elm Spring Branch Road, just off HH Highway southeast of Neosho. It is a working farm where high school agriculture students can learn various aspects of farming.