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NMSU's Kids, Kows & More teaches Otero County children the in and outs of agriculture

ALAMOGORDO, N.M. - "This is so much fun!"

Alice Money talked with children about where their fresh fruits and vegetables come from and how they can grow their own food at home during the first Kids, Kows & More in Otero County. Children from the elementary schools in Alamogordo, Cloudcroft, High Rolls and Tularosa attended the event May 11-12. (NMSU photo by Audry Olmsted)

That was the sentiment of one fourth-grade boy who attended the first ever Kids, Kows & More program in Otero County, where elementary school children were taught the importance of water and irrigation, learned how to make curds and whey, and met a dairy cow named Grace.

"Isn't that neat," Katie Ramsey, 4-H agent for New Mexico State University's Otero County Cooperative Extension Service, said when she heard the boy. "He has no idea he's learning right now. He's not in a classroom setting, but he's learning and it's fun."

Kids, Kows & More is an agricultural expo created in 1990 that gives children a chance to see that the food they eat and drink does not originate on the shelves of their local grocery store.

"It's a great field trip for kids to be able to come and learn about the agricultural products that are grown in their own county and to see a showcase of what is going on in their county," Ramsey said. "That's the really exciting thing about it - it can vary from Florida to New Mexico."

Schools on a tight budget did not have to look very far to find a field trip destination for their students.

Roughly 655 students from Alamogordo, Cloudcroft, High Rolls and Tularosa attended the two-day event May 11-12 at the fairgrounds in Alamogordo.

At the expo, Jonathan Walker and Mary Sanchez, both with the Natural Resource Conservation Service, used an irrigation model to teach the children about the importance of water and how people live together and manage water as a resource to grow food.

Kate Maynard, with the New Mexico Beef Council, gave a presentation about the significance of having beef in one's diet.

Marianne Schweers, who owns the Heart of the Desert Vineyards and the Eagle Ranch Pistachio Groves with her husband George, talked about the nutty crop that is so prevalent in the county.

Collin Duff, with New Mexico Game & Fish, educated the children about the wildlife around them.

Kelly Goodpasture, with Southwest Dairy Farmers, taught the children how curds and whey was first discovered and how it is made.

Jim and Alice Money each talked with the fourth graders about horticulture and the different types of produce they can grow in a garden.

Cody Lightfoot, with Southwest Dairy Farmers, brought along his dairy cow Grace to teach the children about the vitamins and minerals in milk. He and Grace also gave a demonstration on how a dairy cow is milked.

Also at the presentation, Richard Bernin, with the U.S. Forest Service at Lincoln National Forest, brought along Smokey Bear to teach children about the dangers of forest fires. The attendees also got to see the different tools firefighters use to put out fires.

Ramsey said she received good feedback from the students and teachers. She said the students understood the science about what they were learning about agriculture, but did not always make the connection between that and the food they eat.

"It was really neat for the kids to be able to take the science and formal education from the classroom and be able to learn it in a non formal atmosphere. That is what Extension is all about - getting information and knowledge out to people. That was our goal when we designed the different stations at the expo," she said.

NMSU's Cooperative Extension Service agents in counties coordinate the field trips for students in Alamogordo, Santa Fe, Moriarty, Clovis, Portales, Roswell, Artesia, Carlsbad, Hobbs, Tucumcari, Albuquerque, Gallup, Farmington, Socorro, Silver City, Ruidoso, Las Cruces, Las Vegas, Belen, Raton and Springer. Each event is a collaborative effort of area agriculture professionals and volunteers.

"That was a really neat moment," Ramsey said, reflecting back on the boy who could not contain his excitement about the expo. "That is all I cared about, that these kids were having fun learning and they didn't know that they were really learning."