WOODSTOCK – Students from all over McHenry County got a chance to get out of the classroom this week and step into the world of farming.
The McHenry County Farm Bureau's Ag Expo, held Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, will host more than 2,500 area third and fourth graders who are eager to learn about where, and how, their food is made.
Students visit 20 stations, each covering a topic of agriculture such as bee keeping, beef production or Christmas tree farming.
"We want students to walk away with the basic concept of where does food come from," said Dan Volkers, manager at the McHenry County Farm Bureau. "When we look back, say, 100 years ago, most people had some direct tie to agriculture one way or another. You go to the 1950s and that number keeps shrinking. Now we're looking at, in McHenry County, you're talking about less than one percent of the population is growing food.
"I think it's important for the kids to get an understanding of that."
More than 40,000 McHenry County students haven taken part in the Ag Expo since its inception in 1988. It's hosted on the McHenry County Fairgrounds every other year, and it aims to educate students, particularly those from the county's more urban areas, about the importance of farming, said McHenry County Farm Bureau Board President Michele Aavang.
"This might be one of the only experiences they have to be exposed to agriculture," Aavang said. "[Farming] is still a huge economic driver for the county, especially when you're west of Route 47. But a lot of people don't have much experience [with farming]. So this is a nice exposure for them."
Robert Richardson, co-owner of Richardson's Christmas Tree farm in Spring Grove, said the expo is a chance for students to gain a deeper understanding for how crops make it into their homes.
"A lot of [students] have been to our place or have been to get a tree," Richardson said. "But they don't know where that tree really came from. That's what most of our talk is. Where do you get the seeds from? How do we take care of the tree?
"There's more to it than just having a tree out in a field where you can of cut it down. It's there for a reason. It looks like it does because somebody put some work into it."
Alden-Hebron third grade teacher Allison Thompson said that while her students are initially drawn to the exhibits with animals, she notices that they begin to eventually relate things at the expo to topics they have discussed in the classroom.
"Reading out of a textbook isn't going to give you the full in-depth learning experience," Thompson said. "When you can get your hands on things, you'll have a deeper sense of its meaning."
Thompson said five of her students live on working farms, and the Ag Expo is a chance for those children to further explain agriculture concepts to their classmates.
"For the kids what don't live on farms, for them to get a deeper sense for where our food comes from, where our everyday life things come from, that is enjoyable for them. And learning from their other classmates is fun too."