Dozens of second and third grade students from Ennis, Harrison and Cardwell clustered inside the Fan Mountain Arena on Friday to attend Ag Days, a semi-annual field trip put on by the Madison Valley Cattlewomen for local children to learn hands-on about where their food comes from.
The idea for Ag Days originated more than 20 years ago, when the Madison Valley Cattlewomen began to notice that many local schoolchildren had limited exposure to agricultural lifestyles, if any at all.
“We just were amazed when we first started how few kids from the Ennis School were raised on ranches,” said Madison Valley rancher Devonna Owens.
Throughout the arena were nine different stations set up with a different presenter to talk about various aspects or ranching and agriculture. Topics ranged from cattle, sheep and hogs to plants, honey and veterinary care.
“The kids need to know where their food comes from, that it doesn’t come out of the grocery store,” Owens said.
After the students arrived one of the first presentations was given by Jaime Wood and Bart Story along with their 5H stock dogs Lady and Cricket. The young students crowded the fence panel for a closer look, wanting to know more as the dogs put on an incredible display of obedience and control as they herded three painted desert sheep around the arena.
The dogs are trained to keep the animals in a herd between their handler and themselves. They take direction from their handler, and the stock animals respond to the dogs in turn. The 5H refers to the duties and necessary characteristics of a stock dog: Heading, Herding, Heeling, Heeding and Hardiness.
Following a short round of questions and answers from the young audience, Bart Story reflected on the importance of Ag Days to the next generation in a rural community like the Madison Valley.
“They inform the kids, parents and just the general public where their food source comes from, the work that goes into it and the quality of food that we do raise here at home,” Story said.
The Ag Days presentations are just one way the Madison Valley Cattlewomen reach out to local youth. The group also offers scholarships to seniors at Ennis and Harrison Schools as well as hosting a cook off each year at the school.
When asked what difference it makes if local kids learn about agriculture, Devonna Owens quickly points to a heritage rich in farming, ranching and agriculture throughout the Madison Valley and surrounding area.
“It’s what people come here to see. They want to see our history,” she said. “Maybe there are just a handful of us left, but its still important.”