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Pupils learn about agriculture


June 4, 2012
Staff writer - (Scott can be contacted at , The Herald-Star

WELLSBURG - Fifth-graders from Follansbee and Wellsburg middle schools learned about animals and plants and how they might play a role in their futures during the second Brooke County Ag Day at Brooke Hills Park.

Held May 24, the event included several stations where the pupils got a close look at farm animals, learned how they can plant a garden in a small space and discovered careers related to nature they may want to pursue.

It's a collaboration of the Brooke County Economic Development Authority; Northern Panhandle Resource, Conservation and Development Council; Brooke County West Virginia University Extension Service; and the park, with support and assistance from the Brooke County Board of Education, Brooke County Commission, Ohio Valley Septic, City Plumbing and Heating and others.

Article Photos

Warren Scott
LEARNING ABOUT NATURE — Erica Gump, an agent with the Brooke County West Virginia University Extension Service, was among many who discussed nature at the second Brooke County Ag Day held May 24 at Brooke Hills Park.

The pupils petted Buddy, a 4-year-old Chincoteague horse brought by Nick and Amy Cross of Wellsburg and Teddy, a 3-year-old alpaca brought by Mary Burns of Avella.

The Crosses discussed care for the horse, noting that horses, unlike people, have the same set of teeth all their lives.

Amy Cross said horses may live to be 30 years old and their lives are measured the same as human lives.

Burns said alpaca fur is lightweight, durable, hypoallergenic and as warm as wool and can be used to make hats, socks and other clothing. She left samples of her product for the pupils to take home with them.

Burns said breeding and caring for the alpacas on her farm and creating products from their fur has been a pleasant occupation.

"I love to work with the animals and I love the craft, she said.

Phil Greathouse of Wellsburg described the life of a honey bee and the roles played by queens, drones and workers with the help of fellow beekeeper Frank Agosh.

Sheldon Owen, a wildlife biology specialist with West Virginia University, brought skulls and fur samples from several animals. He explained how an animal's teeth will depend on the tasks it must perform.

For example, beavers have two, long front incisors that help them to bite into tree bark but no canine teeth since they don't need them to tear into prey or chew meat, while a coyote has a mix of incisors and canine teeth to help it chew both plants and animals.

As an omnivore, coyotes "are survivalists. They'll eat whatever they can, whenever they need to," Owen said.

Norm Schwertfeger, Brooke County WVU Extension agent, showed the pupils how they can create small vegetable gardens in a 6-inch deep square foot area using soil enriched with a mineral known as vermiculite, peat moss and compost.

Schwertfeger explained compost can consist of banana peels, egg shells and coffee grounds, "stuff we normally throw away," sawdust, grass clippings and dirt. The latter contains microbes that help to break down the compost faster as well as nutrients good for plants, he said.

Joan Beck of the Brooke County Economic Development Authority compiled a list of about 20 agriculture-related professions they might consider. Ruby Greathouse, a member of the NPRC&D Council, noted the jobs weren't limited to farming and included also a veterinarian, biology teacher or professor and park ranger and ranged in salary from $40,000 to $80,000.

Several pupils on the field trip commented they enjoyed a presentation by WVU Extension agents Erica Gump and Liz Gatts that involved dissecting owl pellets.

Owls don't have teeth to chew their food, so they consumes its pray in large chunks, later regurgitating feathers, fur and bones in a pellet that somewhat resembles a hairball.

Carli Julio of Follansbee said she found a rat skeleton in her owl pellet and found the experience very interesting.

Justin Kittle, a Follansbee pupil from Weirton, said he enjoyed learning about growing tomatoes and other fruits and vegetables.

And Erick Velez, a Follansbee pupil from Colliers, said he enjoyed the bee presentation.

"I would keep some if I could," he said.

Holly Kisner, a teacher at Follansbee Middle School, said some pupils had some difficulty reconciling the main course of many a dinner with the chickens brought by local farmer Fred Hayman.

But she said overall their response was positive.

"There hasn't been one station they haven't been interested in. There's been a great response from the kids," Kisner said.

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