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Fantastic Farmtastic

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Wednesday, October 9, 2019 - 5:15am

Julie White sits down with Cobie and John to explain what's so fantastic about an activity she developed called Farmtastic!


Announcer: This is 4H4U2, a podcast from the Mississippi State University Extension Service, promoting 4-H programs and positive youth development. Here now, your hosts, Dr. John Long, and Cobie Rutherford.

John Long: And welcome to another podcast of 4H4U2. I'm your host, John Long.

Cobie Rutherford: And I'm Cobie Rutherford.

John Long: And it is yet again one of my favorite times of the week, and that is to do this podcast, and we're talking about everything 4-H. We are joined with our special guest this week, Dr. Julie White. And Dr. White, did I do that right? Did I say that correctly?

Julie White: It's Miss White.

John Long: Oh, sorry, sorry.

Julie White: Hopefully in the next year.

John Long: Okay. All right, so we are working on it. All right.

Julie White: That is true.

John Long: That's good. All right, so we're going to get that taken care of, and then we'll formally call you doctor.

Julie White: That is true. Yes, that's right.

John Long: All right.

Cobie Rutherford: That's right.

John Long: So you're pre-doctor? That's the way I look at that.

Julie White: That's right. Yeah, there we go.

John Long: Okay, very good, very good. So, how are you?

Julie White: Good.

John Long: Good. Good, good. Cobie, so you had a good week so far?

Cobie Rutherford: It's been a good week.

John Long: Good. Yeah, I think it's been a pretty good one.

Cobie Rutherford: A hot one.

Julie White: Yeah, very hot.

John Long: A hot one. Felt very blessed to be able to say that I could stay inside.

Cobie Rutherford: No doubt.

Julie White: That's right. Amen.

John Long: Yeah. And I'm an outside person, so that's kind of tough. But anyway. Anyway, comme ci comme ca, we're going to move in to the program. And Julie ... I've been knowing Julie a long time, and Julie, tell us a little bit about yourself, where you're from, and how you got here, to where you are today.

Julie White: Okay.

John Long: And what you do, today.

Julie White: All right. So I grew up in South Louisiana. I grew up in Livingston Parish, just outside of Baton Rouge, and grew up in 4-H there, showing livestock, was in the clothing project, which is one of those deep-known secrets that a lot of the 4-H agents find out. And you're like, "Really?" So I actually made my senior prom dress. So it was one of my projects. But I grew up on a dairy farm, and so ... But while I was in school, I met a Mississippi boy, and ended up in Starkville because of the Mississippi boy. So ...

John Long: Isn't that a, I think that's a country song isn't it? Louisiana Woman, Mississippi Man.

Cobie Rutherford: Yeah, that's it.

Julie White: Mississippi man, sure is.

John Long: So you just played that right out there.

Julie White: Sure is, so ...

John Long: Yeah, that's awesome. That's awesome.

Julie White: So yeah.

John Long: And got started, you said in, well you were a 4-H-er, and then you came to 4-H through here.

Julie White: Yep, yep.

John Long: So that's awesome. That's awesome. And a little-known fact, I always like saying a little-known fact. Julie and I are practically neighbors.

Julie White: That is correct.

John Long: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Cobie Rutherford: Wow, how about that.

Julie White: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

John Long: Yes, yes. We got to keep check on each other when we need to.

Julie White: Technically I'm in the middle of you two.

John Long: You are, you are. You really are. So ...

Cobie Rutherford: How about that?

John Long: If we need anything, just call, she can be there in a short amount of time.

Julie White: That's right.

Cobie Rutherford: That's a good deal.

Julie White: That's exactly right.

Cobie Rutherford: Now Julie, you started out your career in the county office here in Oktibbeha County, right? As a 4-H agent?

Julie White: I started actually in a Attala County in 2000, and served there, and in Lowndes County, and Webster County before coming to Oktibbeha County as a County Agent. In Attala, Lowndes, and Webster, I was actually a 4-H Agent. So I spent 15 years on the county level before coming to the School of Human Sciences.

John Long: Boy, time gets away, doesn't it? I just was always say that it's amazing how quickly that gets away from us.

Julie White: Mm-hmm (affirmative). So, yeah.

Cobie Rutherford: And now you've got one of the largest Extension projects in the whole state that you conduct. Tell us a little bit about that.

Julie White: So I am an Extension associate over in the School of Human Sciences, but I focus on Agriculture Literacy. So I run a program called, Farmtastic, that I actually created back in 2012 as a way to teach kids. At that time I was the county agent here in Oktibbeha County, and I just wanted a way to teach kids about farming and agriculture. And when I would go to the schools they would say, "Tell me that chocolate milk came from a brown cow. Or that cotton comes from a sheep." And so I just wanted a hands-on way for us to be able to teach those kids about agriculture, and for them to experience it. And so-

John Long: And these are legitimate answers that kids are giving.

Cobie Rutherford: Yeah.

Julie White: Yes. Yes.

Cobie Rutherford: Yeah.

Julie White: It's amazing how many adults will tell me that chocolate milk comes from a brown cow. And they really don't understand where cotton comes from, or anything like that. And so, there are as many adults that have that perception as kids. And so, this was just a way for us to really highlight county agriculture here in Starkville, but grew way faster than I had planned.

John Long: That's what you get for being creative, Julie.

Julie White: And so, in about a year and a half, we went from being just a county program to being a statewide program.

John Long: That's awesome. That is awesome. And now, we talked about this on our last podcast we recorded, about that disconnect that people have with where everything comes from. And it's so hard to wrap your mind around it. Well, I grew up in an agricultural background. If you're around it, it's pretty easy to know where things come from. I never had those kind of questions. But it's really hard to believe that people really don't know where everything comes from, and what it takes, that production side and all of the things that are so big a part of our state for that matter.

Julie White: Right, yes, very much so.

John Long: So, with us being an agricultural state, to me that seems like an extremely important thing we need to do, especially in our state, is to continue doing that.

Julie White: Yeah. Most of our kids these days are three to four generations removed from the farm. And so they just haven't been exposed to it like many of us were. And so, they just don't know. And so it's our job to show them what agriculture is about, and why it's important to them.

John Long: Right, right.

Cobie Rutherford: Yeah. And I even look at our statewide 4-H demographics, where only 6% of our 4-H-ers claim to live on the farm. So there's 94% of even the children that we're interacting with, John, that don't have that real farm experience.

John Long: Background, that's right. And see how much that's changed. And I would think in a relatively short amount of time, too. I don't think it's been all that long since ... But then that's again, something that we have to adapt to, as far as the educational efforts for sure, I would say, so ... So Julie, exactly ... Walk through some of the activities. I know my kids have been, or one of them have been through it. Just tell us exactly what Farmtastic, how do you go about setting that up and going through them?

Julie White: Okay. Yep. So Farmtastic is a traveling exhibit, and we travel across the state throughout the year. We set up in agri-centers across the state, and when we set up, it has five or six different focus areas depending on where we're set up. But basically the main ones that the kids will walk through, they'll all enter through our Barnyard Bonanza, which of course focuses on livestock and poultry. Then they'll move through to Mighty Crops, which focuses on agronomy, like cotton, soybeans, rice, corn, those kinds of things.

Julie White: And then they'll move to Wonder Plants, which is horticulture, so it looks at gardening and things that they can do in their backyard, whether it's actually growing vegetables, or whether it's growing plants such as flowering plants to beautify their home. And then we also go to the Enchanted Forest, where we look at forestry and how big that industry is in our state, and how it relates to the things we do every day. We also go to Something Fishy, which has to do with aquaculture. And we look at the different things, the catfish industry here in this state. Unless I'm on the coast, and then of course on the coast we're looking at the seafood industry.

Cobie Rutherford: You have to adapt for that, for sure.

John Long: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Julie White: Yes. And that is a huge room when we're on the coast. And then the last room that they always go through is the Farm Village, which helps them to put together the things that they've seen that day dealing with agriculture, and how all that gets to their plate, or their home, or their clothes that they're wearing. And so that's a chance for us to kind of tie that whole farm-to-plate activity. But we also have many partners as we travel, such as the Soil and Water Conservation districts, the County Farm Bureaus, MDOT is a big partner of ours that comes in. And so, there's a lot of different activities that we add to the events, depending on where we are and what the local partners are.

John Long: Right. Well that's great that you've got these local partners coming in and continuing to help to expand the program that you have. So that's important, too, as far as that support is concerned.

Julie White: It's definitely a great benefit.

John Long: Mm-hmm (affirmative). For sure.

Cobie Rutherford: How many of these do you do a year?

Julie White: Typically the last four years we have done anywhere from nine to twelve a year. When we set up, we come in on a Monday and set up, and then we run the event Tuesday through Friday. So bringing in local schools ... As an example, and most of them, this is how it works, like here at MSU when we host the one at the Horse Park, we attract 10 counties, and we're targeting second to fourth graders. And so it's a free field trip as far as coming in and being able to tour it, and experience it. All the kids go home with a backpack full of goodies they get to take. There's a lot of make-and-take activities as they go throughout the exhibit. They get to take that stuff with them. The teachers also get some information, an agriculture curriculum that they can use in their classroom. And so they get stuff, too, while they're at the event.

John Long: Wow, that reminds me. I'm sure you remember this, you know when we used to have school days on the farm?

Julie White: Yes.

John Long: That's very similar to that.

Julie White: It is.

John Long: Except you're more mobile, instead of having to bus kids into the campus. That's great. So this program is, I'm obviously expanding through the years that you've been doing it, as you said, starting on the county level ... How many at each workshop or Farmtastic event that you have, on average, how many kids would you say that you're reaching out to at a time?

Julie White: Each time it kind of depends on actually how many days the event is. But the average is about 12 to 1500 in those four days. So ...

John Long: Wow. Sorry I just blew into the microphone, but that's mind-blowing.

Cobie Rutherford: Yeah, that's a lot.

Julie White: So we're seeing a good number of kids for us as a 4-H program. It's a great opportunity for us to show what we have, as 4-H, since everything we do doesn't necessarily have to do with farming. There are some other things that our kids can be involved in, and so it's a great time for us to market our 4-H program, too.

John Long: Now Julie, I know that you're a hard worker, and I know that you don't back up from anything, but you have to have help for these things.

Julie White: I do.

John Long: Now how many people do you have helping you with this? Because it's tiring me out hearing you say all that.

Julie White: Yeah, I run ... Usually I utilize about 40 volunteers a day, and that's to get through all of the stations that are in the different focus areas, and to make sure that the kids have the best experience possible. So we're using a lot of volunteer hours when we do Farmtastic.

John Long: Yeah. Thank you volunteers.

Julie White: Yes, very much.

John Long: Thank you. We can't do a lot of stuff without you, and we really appreciate you. A little plug for our volunteers.

Julie White: That's right.

John Long: Now I have to ask this, do you have a favorite area that you work in?

Julie White: Well ...

John Long: Yeah, out of everything, the whole thing, out of everything.

Julie White: I do. Actually, there's probably two. A, I'm a livestock person. And so, of course the livestock room is always my favorite. Because being raised on a farm, and we have a farm now, it's kind of my thing. And yeah, to see the kids all hold that baby chick in that room, it's a really cool moment, especially for those that have never seen it. My other favorite is the forestry room.

John Long: Really?

Julie White: They get to the bubble blowers in that room.

John Long: Oh yeah, I saw that.

Julie White: So if you haven't seen a bubble blower, it's an actual stick of red oak, and red oak is very porous, and so it allows us to be able to blow bubbles through it. So they get a piece of wood that they get to blow bubbles through. And just watching them experience that concept of how a tree utilizes water ... But for us, we're utilizing bubbles. But we get to have some fun with wood, so that's my other favorite.

John Long: You get an aha moment of it anyway, don't you?

Julie White: Yeah, so ...

Cobie Rutherford: That's pretty cool. So I'm sure you've seen a lot of eureka moments, where the light just flicked on in the kid's mind. Do you have a favorite?

Julie White: I think for me, one of the favorites, and it's more because of the way my volunteers act, is because the kids walk from the livestock room into the agronomy room. Well in the agronomy room we have a cotton gin going, and we're ginning cotton. Well, of course the first thing we ask is, "So where's cotton come from?" And they're like, "A sheep!" And we're like-

John Long: Well it does look kind of like cotton.

Julie White: Yeah, it does. But then they're like, "Oh, it really doesn't?" And so we really get to hone-in on that. "No, here are the plants it comes from, here's where it's grown."

John Long: It's a plant, not an animal.

Cobie Rutherford: Right, yeah.

Julie White: And so that one is really neat. And to watch how the volunteers react to the kids' reaction has been really a neat thing for me.

John Long: That's good. That's really good.

Cobie Rutherford: I can almost see the volunteers getting as much out of this in some cases as the youth, because they kind of see firsthand that disconnect that we all see on a daily basis. And then I guess from an adult standpoint, that gives them an opportunity to say, "Well I tell them an agriculture story is important."

Julie White: Yep.

John Long: Right. That's exactly right.

Julie White: It does. And we try to utilize a lot of volunteers that are farmers, or that are involved in different industries in agriculture when we're out traveling. Because then they're actually getting to see what their consumers are saying. And so it gives them that consumer perspective

John Long: It may be more so now than when we went to school, but ... And I think this is what is so important about 4-H, kind of the key thing that we teach in 4-H, is that, learn by doing, and that hands-on activity is so important to that learning process. And every station you have is that way. So those kids are not sitting in a classroom trying to regurgitate information. They're actually learning by that tactile touch, and everything.

Julie White: Yes, and that's one of the things I try to emphasize to our volunteers as I'm doing volunteer orientation for the events, is, look, it's okay that they're not just standing there listening to you. It's okay that they're moving around, and really in each room, there's like seven activities for them to do. And so there's a lot going on in that one room. And so, sometimes my teachers are like-

John Long: Be still!

Julie White: What do you mean they're not going to just stand still?"

John Long: Right right. "We can't handle that."

Julie White: They have trouble. Yeah, they have trouble more than my kids do. My kids love it.

John Long: Very freeing. Yeah, so ...

Julie White: Yeah. And so it's one of those that I kind of have to talk to the volunteers and the teachers, and just be like, "Hey, let them do what they want to do. And it's okay if they don't touch everything," but just letting them do how they want to do. So ...

John Long: Right. Right, right. And giving them a little freedom as far as what they're interested in, yeah.

Cobie Rutherford: I remember a couple of years, well, I guess it was last year when you had it here on campus, we took Reason. And Reason had been terrified of chickens-

John Long: Reason being your son.

Cobie Rutherford: Reason is my son, yeah. He was terrified of chickens up to this point. So we took him in, and he got to hold a chick for the first time. And that was the first time he had seen a chicken outside of a commercial grower. And he just, it blew his mind. He couldn't wrap his head around why this chick wasn't yellow, and in a house with 60,000 friends.

Julie White: Right, yeah.

John Long: "Where are all your friends?"

Julie White: Yeah, they, that's probably ... And that's, like I told you, that's one of my favorite spots, is because that is an aha moment for most of them. And even though we have to tell them that that chicken's going to end up growing up to be probably a chicken nugget.

John Long: Right, your chicken nuggets, yeah.

Julie White: But that whole little fuzzy baby chick thing, and we actually have them hatch in there, so they're getting to see the whole process. The whole "chicken or the egg" thing. So it's-

John Long: We discussed that last time, didn't we?

Cobie Rutherford: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Julie White: Yeah, so it's kind of a neat thing for them. So ...

John Long: Oh, that's good.

Cobie Rutherford: It also works out really well that Julie and her husband have a farm, because I know they use their own animals sometimes at these events.

John Long: Oh, wow.

Julie White: Yes, especially here in Starkville. It's ...

Cobie Rutherford: Easy to transport.

Julie White: Yeah, it's easy, and it's easier for me because I spent so much time at the exhibit. When we're having to feed and stuff, it's just easier to have ours there. But we do utilize 4-H-ers as we travel across the state to utilize ... Whatever county we're in, typically that county's 4-H-ers provide the animals for the exhibit.

John Long: Boy, that's great outreach for them as well. That opportunity to go out and show what they know, too, so that's really good. And it's giving back to what 4-H has given them. That's great.

Cobie Rutherford: Yeah and I said, I guess I misspoke there, they're probably not Julie's animals, they're probably your children's animals who are 4-H-ers, too.

Julie White: Yes, yes. And they spend as much time at Farmtastic as I do because they love it as much as I do. So ...

John Long: Right. That's awesome. It's a family event.

Julie White: Yeah.

John Long: Yeah.

Julie White: Yeah. Morgan asks me all the time if I'm going to keep doing this until she's old enough to do it. And I'm like, "I don't know about that."

John Long: Well, you know, time moves on.

Julie White: Yes.

John Long: Well, now what do you see in the future for Farmtastic? What are your visions for the future? We're not going to hold you to those, but ...

Julie White: Yeah. No, I would love for us to be able to continue to do Farmtastic across the state, because I see the importance of us as an agriculture state promoting what we do. And to be there to promote what our farmers are doing on a daily basis, because people need to understand where their food and clothes come from.

Cobie Rutherford: Absolutely.

Julie White: And so I'd love to see us maybe scale back a little from doing that whole 12 a year to maybe doing at least one a region across the state. And if not, just a couple more than that. But I would love to see us be able to continue the program for a while and expand it in certain areas. And change it up just a little. It gets changed pretty regular, more or less because I get bored, more than ... With the same activities all the time, but that also-

John Long: Because you've got a new crop of kids coming in.

Julie White: Right. And so it's fun to change things up and let them see something new.

John Long: Sure, sure. And that's keeping you fresh too, right?

Julie White: Yes, yes.

John Long: Not losing your mind. So with that, that is, like you said, expanding and changing things is going to be important. And we have a lot of things that change agriculturally, and otherwise. So, yeah.

Julie White: So yeah, our technologies are changing every day. So there's going to be a lot of new things coming down the pipe that we're going to be able to show.

John Long: I saw a drone spraying a field the other day. I knew it was just a matter of time, so ...

Julie White: Yep, yep.

Cobie Rutherford: I heard about that.

John Long: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Julie White: So most of our kids will have the opportunity to go to school to be a drone pilot.

John Long: See, now that's ...

Julie White: And that's something we would've never thought of.

John Long: The big yellow bird will be replaced by that. That's an airplane for people that don't know.

Julie White: That's right.

John Long: But anyway, but anyway. Well Julie, we certainly thank you for coming in, and the time just flies by when we do these things.

Julie White: It does.

John Long: And we really appreciate it. Now where can they go, our listeners, if we have listeners, I think we've got listeners. I hope so. If you're listening, Where can they go to get more information?

Julie White: Our website is

John Long: Oh, that was snappy. I like that. That's good, and easy to remember.

Julie White: There you go.

John Long: Easy to remember. And Cobie, where can they go to learn about 4-H in their area?

Cobie Rutherford: So to learn more about 4-H, you can visit any county Extension office across the state or visit our website at

John Long: And I love our website, because if you're in your county, and you just look to the right, it'll say, "Select a county," and it automatically takes you to the people that you need to be in contact with.

Julie White: That's right.

John Long: So, that's awesome. Well thank you. And with that, we're going to wrap up this edition of 4H4U2. Be sure and subscribe if you're not a subscriber already, and join us next time. Take care.

Announcer: Thanks for joining us for 44H4U2. For more information, please visit And be sure to subscribe to our podcast. 4H4U2 is produced by the Mississippi State University Extension Service Office of Agricultural Communications.

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