close up image of three cotton tufts on a dried cotton plant

Cotton, Corn & Co-ops: AgAdventures

What is "AgAdventures"?

close up of a withered pink bud

AgAdventures is a program hosted by 4H and the UF /IFAS North Florida Research and Education Center. There are AgAdventure days at most (if not all) Extension Research Stations. (The Research Stations are the fields where testing is conducted, not to be confused with the Ag Extension offices.) While it is designed for fourth grade students, both Leon and Gadsden County AgAdventure events are open to all ages of homeschoolers. This year students rotated between corn, cotton, and peanut stations learning about each crop’s use in food and industry. The bug and soil stations highlight the connection of both insects and soil health to crop production. Finally, the AgTech station allows a glimpse into new and developing technology for farm use.

What makes AgAdventures worth the trip?

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AgAdventures does a super job of letting kids not only handle plants which they may have only read about, but also giving them a chance to think about the impact of each crop on everyday life. Although my family knows about farms both from experience and the firsthand accounts of grandparents, the mini-sessions took it to both a more global level and a more personal level. After all of the news about palm oil (thank you World Watch News), learning that China controls 40% of all peanut oil production immediately gave my child a reason to pause. (And plenty more to talk about later). After looking at a long list of the items we use daily which need it for their production, we got a better handle on how important that crop is.

AgAdventures also does a fantastic job of giving an opportunity to consider some of the myriad of challenges facing farmers. From the need for pest control to the issues with weather, students got a glimpse into how difficult farming could be. Not only is low rainfall an issue, but an overabundance of rain – or even just the humidity in the air- can lead to plant stress in the form of diseases like mold and mildew. The presenters did a super job of explaining how drones are being developed to help with pest identification and treatment. Questions on “organic” controls were welcome.

speaker stands in front of a drone

Peanut Butter Peanuts does not Boiled Peanuts make...

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Another surprising fact was that we learned there were many, many varieties of each crop that are used today. We learned about the three basic types of corn and talked about the four types of peanut varieties present. Although some of our group had not been privileged enough to be raised on boiled peanuts, those of us that were gladly snagged a bag of boiled peanuts. Others were still finishing bags of popcorn. The overall effect: kids listened and learned. (Not that any homeschool parents have ever done the same, right?)

Yellow Flowers, Pink Flowers, White Cotton

Even after reading countless stories set in the 1800s, my peep found there’s a lot to learn about cotton. We had no idea that it was originally cultivated in India, or that it the main component of all of our baseball caps. Students were invited into the field to find the just-opened buds (only a day old)

close up of butter yellow flower

which will be self-pollinated that day, turn pink and wither before growing into a green boll full of the fluffy white stuff.

On the display table lay a fluffy pyramid of seeds left behind by disappointed children: permits are needed to grow it. This prevents unmanaged crops from spreading pests to commercial crops. It wasn’t difficult to see why it was traditionally a labor-intensive crop – the seeds stick in the cotton fibers *very* well and the cotton bolls are small, making it best harvested by women’s or children’s small hands. Not in the dewy cool of the morning, either. Only dry cotton could be picked. Thankfully, today’s cotton is managed largely by machines: planting, spraying, harvesting, baling and transport. It was easy to grasp how technology helped. And, for those homeschoolers who just have to grown their own…one of the extension agents said since it can be grown for “educational purposes”, a homeschool group might just get a permit : ).

Which students does AgAdventures suit most?

students wander through a field of young corn

All in all, this is a field trip that I would do again with youngers or middle schoolers (or a particularly Ag invested High School student). The material was quite pertinent to not only agriculture, but discussions on economics, history, and even the impact of fair-trade markets. In reality, those discussions could be suited to any age. Many of the presenters are Ag Extension agents (read that as very highly educated) and welcome all sorts of questions. The snippets of discussion and curriculum here are only a small taste of what we did. And, the fact that it is a free, outdoors event only adds to the attraction. AgAdventures are presented for an entire week, so there are multiple chances to catch it. Be sure to bring your camera, your questions and your picnic. You are bound to find ways to relate this daily life, even if it is only movie night popcorn.

  • Be sure to call the Ag Extension Agent for dates and to register ahead of time. You will need a headcount.
  • Be SURE to ask your groups parents about peanut allergies. Be aware that students are not simply walking in a lunchroom with a peanut butter sandwich in the corner, but entire fields of the plants and the peanuts.
  • Bring water, a lunch, a blanket and shade if you need it.
  • Bring sunscreen and insect repellant if you want it. We didn’t miss either of these things.
  • You will have a few pages of very light paperwork to fill out – your name and address mostly – for demographics being collected.

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