Agricultural Weekend Experience takes students to working farms


Agricultural Weekend Experience: Taking a Step From the Classroom to the Real Thing

by Carly Martin

At then end of this summer, I was informed about ISU's Agricultural Weekend Experience, or AWE, program and was asked if I would be interested in being the coordinator.

Sponsored by the Iowa State University Agricultural Endowment and ISU's College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, AWE gives students majoring in agriculture and life sciences the opportunity to interact with Iowa families in the agriculture community. From viewing different livestock to driving a tractor out in the field, students were able to see a variety of different parts of the agricultural industry. Giving students the chance to spend a time on a farm is key considering more than half of the students at Iowa State who are enrolled in the college of agriculture have little to no farming experience.

AWE is tailored towards students studying agriculture and life sciences who may not have a background in farming. Besides experiencing production farming, the program provides a firsthand glimpse into the heart of Iowa and its communities. ISU's Agricultural Endowment Board established AWE is 2005. Since then, 43 have been provided with hands-on farming experience at farms around Iowa.

Immediately, I wanted to know more about it. After giving it some thought, I knew I wanted to coordinate the program. First, after interning in the agriculture and life sciences communications office this past summer, I realized that working with other people was something I really enjoyed. Also, I saw the program as a way to help students enhance their understanding of their major, and mine. And finally, I came to the conclusion that taking the students back home to the farms where I grew up, near my hometown, Marion, Iowa, would be the perfect place.

This fall, 11 students applied and participated in the Agricultural Weekend Experience. The group was very diverse with students from Chicago, Pennsylvania, Iowa, Uganda, Malaysia, and Brazil.

My grandparents, Loyd and Lois Martin, hosted five students and my parents, David and Beth Martin, hosted six.

Upon our arrival on a Friday evening in October, we had a short dinner and immediately headed out to the field. Although it was a chilly night, the students were excited to arrive at the pitch-black field light up by two combines, two tractors with wagons and a large grain truck.

"The weekend answered many of my questions with first-hand examples like allowing us to use the equipment," says Chawn McGrath, a freshman in animal science from Pennsylvania. Before heading out for the weekend, the students had participated in an orientation that included farm safety do's and don'ts.

The next morning we were up before sunrise to visit Dutch Girl Dairy to see its dairy cattle milking operation. Although the students may not have liked waking up so early on a Saturday morning, it showed them how early farmers have to start their day.

Later in the morning, we stopped at Blackford Farms where Wayne Blackford told us about his market beef operation and crop production.

"I saw that farming is not as cheap as I thought it was. It made me realize that you never know how something is until you get out there and experience it, which is what this program has allowed me to do," says Khaddija Brown, freshman majoring in animal science pre-vet. Brown is originally from Chicago.

Next we visited Center Point-Urbana and stopped at an implement dealership. We were given a tour of the parts-storage area and we viewed the equipment out on the lot. This gave students the opportunity to ask questions and take a look at implements close up.

Then we headed back to DCM Hampshires and Durocs, which was the farm where I grew up. Personally, I really enjoyed this part, my father, David Martin, and I described the swine industry and how it has evolved over the years.

A memorable part for my father was giving the students the chance to a drive a four-wheel drive tractor out in an open field while he sat alongside helping direct them.

"It was great to be able to help educate the students. I learned from them as well since it was such a diverse group with students," says David Martin.

Students also visited a dairy goat farm, meat goat farm and had the chance to ride to help harvest soybeans, too.

Spending time with these two families allowed students to see a common theme you will see on many Iowa farms -- the importance of a family working together to get things accomplished.

Martha Ibore, an agronomy major from Uganda said, "AWE gave me the opportunity to actually live on a farm and compare how farming is done here versus my home country of Uganda."

"The AWE program showed me what a true Iowa family farm is like and it was interesting to see all the hard work and challenges that go along with farming," says Kelsey Regan, a junior in agricultural biosystems technology.

The AWE program turned out to be a very successful event for all involved - participants, hosts and myself. I am very thankful that my family and I were able to share our farming experiences with them. As an agricultural education- communications option major, this was really helpful for my education as well. It enabled me to see how students with little to no farming background perceive things. My family and I were able to communicate with them our information about the industry and how important farming is to us.