Environmental Agriculture Days has been educating 5th graders for 17 years
By Jean Caspers-Simmet
Date Modified: 05/30/2012 1:27 PM
EAGLE GROVE, Iowa —From a DNA extraction experiment to a lesson on precious soil resources in a 19th century country school, nearly 700 fifth-graders from Humboldt, Hamilton, Webster and Wright counties participated in Youth Environmental Agriculture Days at the Wright County fairgrounds in Eagle Grove last week and this week.
Using pipettes, plastic cups, coffee filters, shampoo and banana cells, students learned how to extract DNA.
Dean Getting, with FMC Corp., and Linda Cline, county youth coordinator with Webster County Extension, helped students to learn.
"DNA determines the characteristics of all living things," Getting told the students. "It is the blueprint of life."
Cline whirred together bananas and water in a blender. Students mixed that with shampoo and salt and strained it through a coffee filter. Using the pipette, they squirted the solution into a test tube.
"What are those bubbles that are forming?" Getting asked. "When we put the sugar into the alcohol, it forced it back into a precipitate. You are looking at DNA. "
Cline meanwhile blended "DNA smoothies" consisting of orange juice, bananas, honey and tofu.
"It's good," said Kane Mendoza, a Clarion-Goldfield student, as he drank his smoothie.
"This is biotechnology," Getting said.
He showed slides about the world's ever-increasing population and the tremendous demand for food it creates.
"We've got to get more food out of every acre," Cline said, encouraging students to go to college and consider agricultural careers.
Mike Anderson of Clarion came along with his son, Luke, as a chaperone.
"I went with my daughters when they came," Anderson said. "I learn right along with the kids."
There's a lot to learn.
David Stephens, county youth coordinator with Humboldt County Extension, stood in front of prairie grass taller than he is and talked about how much topsoil has been lost to erosion.
John Laird, Hamilton County naturalist, Karen Hansen, Webster County naturalist, and Charlie Bray, Wright County naturalist, talked about the importance of protecting water resources.
Cheryll Entriken, county youth coordinator with Hamilton County Extension, used Eagle Grove students to model hats that protect from sun exposure, and talked about the importance of sunscreen.
Entriken has been a part of Youth Environmental Agriculture Days since it started 17 years ago.
"It was developed by and continues to be sponsored by ISU Extension in Hamilton, Humboldt, Webster and Wright counties," she said. "There will be about 700 fifth-graders from 11 public and private school systems participating over seven days."
With extension service cuts in recent years, volunteers are more vital to the program, Entriken said, estimating 80 adults helped this year.