From the Field: Behind the Scenes of FARMtastic
Looking in from the outside, FARMtastic appears to function like a well-oiled machine. Delighted children move in a choreographed dance from station to station to learn where their food, fiber and fuel comes from.
No, chocolate milk does not come from brown cows. Sheep produce wool, not cotton. And yes, that delicious honey we love is produced by bees, whose stings we hate.
While this hands-on experience seems magical, it requires more than a wave of a wand to create. In fact, each FARMtastic event, while coordinated and hosted by the MSU Extension Service and supported by several sponsors, relies on a small army of community partners and volunteers to function.
One recent example is the fall FARMtastic event held in Amite County. MSU Extension agent Amy Walsh recruited a variety of local organizations, businesses, and student groups to help set up and take down the stations featuring different Mississippi commodities: Barnyard Bonanza, Mighty Crops, Wonder Plants, Something Fishy, Enchanted Forest, FARM Toys, and the FARMvillage.
More than 100 volunteers – at least 25 a day for the 4-day event – hosted 1,157 visitors from six counties!
In addition to school and homeschool groups, Wednesday night was open to the public and 124 people attended.
Volunteers included 4-Hers and 4-H volunteers, Mississippi Homemaker Volunteers, FFA chapters, Master Gardener groups, Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), Farm Service Agency (FSA), Farm Bureau, Soil and Water Conservation District, Southwest Mississippi Beekeepers Association, Mississippi Forestry Commission, Forest Service Agency, Amite County Co-Op, Tractor Supply, Southern Ag Credit, and Hospice Compassus. Local farmers provided hay and live animals.
“Each year we do FARMtastic we look for outreach projects that we can do in our community,” Walsh said. “In the past we have had the nursing home bring residents to go through the exhibit. This year we visited Personal Care Pediatric Center for special needs children and invited the kids to have the hands-on FARMtastic experience. These outreach programs require us to think outside of the box to give the best experience possible for these special groups. FARMtastic has been a great marketing tool for us to promote 4-H and Extension throughout southwest Mississippi.”
Thanks, everyone! Extension couldn’t do it without you!
If you are interested in scheduling a FARMtastic event in your community, call your county Extension office, and brainstorm a list of volunteers you can recruit to help.
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Tyler Wilson, right, shadowed Dr. Steven Brandon during the 2016 Rural Medical and Science Scholars program. Participants in the program also receive college credit for two pre-med courses, visit various medical facilities, participate in lab-based hands-on learning activities and take part in a communications and study skills workshop. (Photo by Kevin Hudson)