East Holmes 5th-graders experience farming in new light

East Holmes 5th-graders experience farming in new light
Dave Mast

Holmes County SWCD educator Darby Sherman discusses soil properties as part of the annual East Holmes Tom Graham 5th Grade Farm Tour, which took place Sept. 22 at Walnut Lane Acres near Winesburg.


Into every life a little rain must fall, but that doesn’t mean it has to stop people from enjoying the day.

The East Holmes Schools fifth-grade students saw a few short spurts of rain in the mid-morning hours of their Sept. 22 visit to Walnut Lane Acres near Winesburg, but eventually, the skies cleared and the students got a chance to glean from a number of instructors and educators to learn about life on a working farm. In addition, they took notes on soil and water conservation practices as part of the 55th annual Tom Graham 5th Grade Farm Tour.

The day featured six different educational series including the opening presentation of the value of cover crop to prevent soil erosion by SWCD’s Trevor Berger and Karen Gotter, Joe Christner and farm owner Mervin Hershberger talking about farming techniques, forestry by consulting forester Randy Clum, aquatics by Gotter, a soil presentation by SWCD’s Darby Sherman and Jacob Lotz of the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, and a wildlife presentation by Abby Prieur, a wildlife biologist from Pheasants Forever.

The students also were treated to lunch and a presentation of rodeo roping featuring several members of the Hershberger family.

The event is sponsored by Holmes Soil & Water Conservation District, and while it may have had some new faces in charge, the students were treated to much of the same as students from throughout East Holmes Schools enjoyed a day on the farm.

“It’s new for me, but it certainly isn’t new for the district,” Berger said. “We’ve been at this for a while, and it’s really interesting because the more adults I talk to around Holmes County, the more I find that people still remember their own experience as fifth-graders doing the tour.”

Berger said recently retired Michelle Wood left him a 3-inch-thick notebook of the game plan and to-do list for the event. He said taking the step-by-step approach to developing this year’s event was a team effort, and the entire crew dug in to prepare for what Berger said was a fantastic day.

“The nuance you figure out as you go along in the first year,” Berger said. “I have an excuse this year, but I don’t have one next year.”

One of the key partnerships was teaming up with the Hershberger family at Walnut Lane Acres. Berger said the SWCD has built a relationship with the family over the years through the Alpine Training Program. That relationship opened the door for the Hershbergers to invite the tour to their farm for the event.

Berger said what makes Walnut Lane Acres unique is while it does feature dairy farming, it also adds other features including a goat farm, wood shop and beef cattle.

“When we connected, Mervin was all in,” Berger said. “It’s a great visual for the kids, many of whom haven’t ever set foot on a farm before. Yeah, they could be just dairy, but instead they have moved some away from the dairy aspect and gone to the goats, the beef cattle and a wood shop, which are all interesting things for the kids to experience.”

Groups of students from Berlin, Chestnut Ridge, Winesburg, Walnut Creek, Wise and Mt. Hope took turns at the various tour stops. Learning about the farm routine was part of the equation, but the SWCD has always put a premium on also teaching about the conservation side of farming.

“This gives these students a day out to really dig into conservation firsthand, on a very relatable level, because they get to participate,” Berger said.

The preparation for the event begins in May, months before the event takes place. The first order of business is partnering with a local farmer. Berger said it’s fun to move the tour around the county. All the groundwork is put into place in August and September, as they develop the presenter list and topics, which are often determined in some fashion by the type of farm they are visiting.

Berger said one of the nice things is working with the volunteer presenters who join the SWCD for the day.

“We don’t have to work hard to find volunteers because they come to us in a lot of cases because they understand the value this tour presents to these kids,” Berger said.

He said seeing all fifth-grade students in the East Holmes School District get the opportunity to experience farm life firsthand is a valuable tool in reminding them about the important role farming and conservation play in the local economy. He also hopes it will instill in them the desire to pass that message along to future generations.

Each student takes notes along the way, and once they collect all the data, they will write essays with each teacher submitting the top entries, which are then added as finalists for the essay contest.

In addition, students can prepare a poster through the Hiland FFA poster contest, depicting some aspect of the tour they enjoyed.

The top-three winners in each category will be presented later this fall at the SWCD banquet at Harvest Ridge.

Tom Graham was a soil scientist who worked closely with the Holmes SWCD, helping with the tour for many years. After his passing, the farm tour was renamed in his honor.

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