Celebrating Ag Day with a glimpse at Wisconsin's diverse ag industry

Gloria Hafemeister
Cassidy Van Buren, an agriculture student at Waupun High School, showed SAGES students how to plant seeds in a potting mix.

FOX LAKE – Students at SAGES, the school for agriculture and environmental studies at Fox Lake celebrated Agriculture Day on March 20 with an interactive event that featured lessons in biotechnology, and presentations from area agribusiness professionals, a visit with a Wisconsin author and tours of two area businesses.  During the day-long event the students gained a “behind-the-scenes” look at how agriculture is “Food for Life.”

During the course of the day more than 130 kindergarten to sixth grade learners from the school got a glimpse of the diverse cross-section of the state’s agriculture industry.

SAGES, School for Agricultural and Environmental Studies, is a charter school and a part of the Waupun School District.  It uses a project-based learning instructional approach built on authentic learning activities that engage student interest and motivation. Since opening in 2012, the school teaches all subject areas with an emphasis on agriculture and the environment.

Besides instruction from the teachers, students learn from a host of volunteers with farming or environmental backgrounds and students are actively engaged in the Fox Lake community.      

The school takes advantage of surrounding farms, woods and marshland for educational purposes and, with help and ideas from students, the school yard is more than just a playground – it is a learning center.

With students engaged in the development of their outdoor classrooms they also gain an educational edge and prepare themselves to be problem-solvers and leaders in the future.

Tom Zinnen, Biotrek Outreach specialist at UW-Extension, helped students at SAGES learn more about the composition of milk through a series of test-tube experiments.

During the ag-day celebration, students learned about DNA and the scientific make-up of milk with hands-on experiments taught by Tom Zinnen of the University of Wisconsin Madison Biotechnology Center. 

Students compared skim milk to whole milk in a series of test-tube experiments.

Zinnen challenged the students to think about the composition of milk and the role of DNA.  After asking the students to consider whether whole milk or skim milk will produce more bubbles he stated, “Don’t guess. As a scientist, test it.”

Children’s author Lisl Detlefsen talked about two of her children’s books about farming. “Right This Very Minute: a table-to-farm book about agriculture and farming was named the 2019 American Farm Bureau Foundation for Agriculture Book of the Year.

She also wrote “Time for Cranberries” to help young consumers learn more about the popular fruit.

Detlefsen says, “I grew up in Janesville and enjoyed cranberries and cranberry juice but I never knew anything about them, or cared, until I married a cranberry farmer.”

After moving to Wisconsin Rapids and becoming a part of a fifth-generation cranberry farming family she directed her efforts to helping children learn more about the foods they eat.

During lunch she visited with aspiring writers at SAGES and talked about the process of writing and about marketing books and stories and developing a successful writing career.

She advised students to read a lot and practice writing. She talked about the importance of editing and said, “Everyone makes mistakes but it’s what you do after that counts.”

Talking about book revisions Detlefsen said, “I rewrote my first book 34 times.”

She showed the students books she had written when she was in first grade. She says, “I was actually writing stories before that. I’d dictate them to my mom and she wrote them down.”

Detlefsen also showed the students a letter she had written to her fourth grade teacher telling her about her desire to become a writer. 

She says, “When my first book came out my teacher came to a book signing and brought the letter to me. I was really impressed that she had saved it and it demonstrated how much teachers care about their students.”

Dick Zondag of Jung Seed Company in Randolph, led students from SAGES school at Fox Lake on a tour of the business that sends plants all over the country through on-line and catalog sales.

Lunch for this group of students was provided by Wisconsin Women for Agriculture. Claudine Lehman, a long-time WWA member, talked with the students about the many different types of farms and the related industries that contribute to a typical lunch.

In the outdoor classroom they learned about keeping cows healthy from Drs. Emma Schaffel and Jackie McIntyre of the Waupun Veterinary Services.  Assisting in the lessons was Nellie, the official school cow owned by Travis Paul of D & T Dairy at Fox Lake.

Rachel Horsch and Amanda Fairbanks of Siligan Containers demonstrated the importance of the food packaging industry, helping students understand how agriculture impacts numerous other industries and contributes to the state’s economy.

The school’s new greenhouse served as the setting for classes in strawberry farming from Danielle Clark of Mayberry Farms at Mayville and planting basics presented by two students from Waupun High School.

Makenna Kunz and Cassidy Van Buren talked about the basics of preparing soil for planting. Students then had the opportunity to get their hands into the soil, place it in pots and plant flower seeds.

Kunz was particularly excited about coming to the school because she was a student there herself when she was in third grade. She says attending SAGES sparked her interest in agriculture and has helped her develop her skills in relating what she knows about plants to younger students.

A tour of Jung Seed Company and LeRoy Meats completed the student’s celebration of agriculture.