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SWCD Hosts Fifth Graders at Conservation Field Days

Published: Friday, September 15, 2023

Whitley County Soil and Water Conservation District hosted the 40th annual conservation field days for the fifth-grade students from Mary Raber, Little Turtle, Northern Heights, Coesse and South Whitley schools at the Whitley County 4-H Fairgrounds on Sept. 6-7.

This year, seven different topics were featured to give the fifth-grade students a better understanding of soil conservation, wildlife, water safety, water quality, forestry, the various types of things that could be a 4-H projects and a visit to the Ag Learning Museum.

The event takes two days to get all 319 fifth- grade students through the program and this is done with the assistance of the Columbia City FFA chapter members. The FFA members serve as guides for the teachers to help with getting the fifth-grade classes from stop to stop and then assist with serving the hot dog and chips lunch to everyone.

The second day of the field days, after all the presentations are done and lunch is over, the FFA members also put all the tables and chairs away and sweep the 4-H building clean.

Art Franke, NRCS district conservationist, Jeremy Palmer, NRCS district conservationist, and Jamie Perry, IASWCD urban soil specialist, demonstrated the importance of having ground cover, such as grass, to keep soil from eroding away.

They he discussed the different soil layers with the students, explained how powerful water can be if it is not controlled by filter strips and waterways, and explained how some erosion problems can be corrected and why it is so important to keep topsoil in place and not in streams and rivers.

Clay Geiger brought with him a collection of animals' skins, bones and stuffed animals, some native to Indiana and some not. He explained to the students what several animals need to survive, such as types of food and habitat, and why some wildlife animals are beneficial and others are not.

He also talked about how minks had been raised to make coats for women. Now the animals are protected, and their skins aren't used for coats any longer.

He had a mounted largemouth bass he shared with the students. Geiger explained how many fishermen fish for enjoyment and will release the fish they have caught back into the water.

Other topics include: the damage a group of wild turkeys can do to a farmer's corn field after it has been planted and how the turkeys get the scent of the newly planted corn and follow right down the row eating the corn seed before it has a chance to sprout and grow.

Darren Reed, conservation officer, and Levi Knach, conservation officer with the Indiana Department of Natural Resources, brought one of the DNR boats and different types of life vests. They explained how a properly fit life vest could save someone's life-—rather than having one so large that the person might slip out of it once they were in the water.

They also explained what to do after realizing that someone is in the water and needs help. There are all sorts of things in a boat that can be used to help the person such as a fishing pole that the person could grab.

Todd Geiger, who is with the Purdue Cooperative Extension Service, played a computer game with the students. The classes were broken down into teams to see who could get the most answers correct concerning facts about Indiana and Whitley County.

He also talked about all the 4-H projects that a person could have that didn't involve having some type of livestock. There are projects such as cooking, collections, photography, gardening, sewing, bowling and more for those who don't have a place for sheep, pigs cattle or other livestock to use as a fair project.

Jon Gotz, who is with the Whitley County SWCD explained to the students the importance of keeping water clean. One of his examples was a 24-gallon jug in a tower that represented how much precipitation that falls on one square foot of ground in a years' time.

Gotz also showed the students how to use pH test strips to test for the acidity/alkalinity of the water. The pH strips are litmus paper that, when dipped into a solution, will change colors to show how acidic or alkaline the solution is.

Heath Hurst of the Indiana State Department of Agriculture handled the forestry stop. He brought with him examples of the different types of leaves from trees. He explained that some people raise trees much like some farmers raise corn and soybeans as a crop. If a woods is properly handled, it can be a cash crop, but it will take years.

He showed examples of tree rings that indicate how many years old a tree could be. The rings also showed if the tree has had to suffer through a dry year or if the tree got to grow through a good year because of the width of the ring.

Hurst had the students go outside where they learned how to figure what the diameter of a tree was by measuring the circumference of the tree.

The fifth graders also got to visit the Learning Museum. Joe Gottschalk and Ron Myers had them draw a slip of paper with a number on it out of a jar that went with one of the ag tools hanging on the wall of the Ag Museum. Then the student would look the number up on the new kiosk to learn the name of the tool and how it was used.

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