YODER – Surrounded by crop fields and cattle, farmer Derek Zongker began the lesson in ag education 101 – for grown-ups.
Often, the Reno County farmer talks to elementary school kids about where their food comes from. But on this October evening, he and other Reno County Farm Bureau members had a different idea.
It’s not just the kids who are generations removed from the family farm. Farmers and agriculture leaders need to reach their parents and other adults, too.
So, with an attentive group of Reno County Young Professionals before him, Zongker told them what he tells students in the classroom – about the crops he plants, the hundreds of thousands of dollars he spends on each piece of machinery, how he and his fellow farmers are working to feed nearly 10 billion people in the next 30 to 35 years.
“We are challenged to feed the world,” his wife, Michelle, said, adding that it’s thanks to the ever-changing technology, such as with machinery and seed varieties, that she, Derek and others in production agriculture will reach that goal.
County Farm Bureau members have been exploring the idea of reaching adults for almost two years, said Jenny Burgess, who farms with her husband, Geoff, near Nickerson. The lengthy planning came to fruition at the Nelson and Diane Schrock farm near Yoder, where 20- to 40-year-old professionals got a short glimpse into the daily life of a farmer.
The group learned about everything from the cost of equipment and beef production to crops grown in Kansas and why farmers might plant genetically modified seeds. Nelson Schrock, who grows crops and raises Angus cattle, talked about how he makes his own biodiesel from restaurant grease, which he uses to run in his farm equipment.
Visitors also had an opportunity to ask questions about topics such as the viability of large-scale organic farming, the use of high-fructose corn syrup as a sweetener and what products can be made from Kansas corn.
Corn can make a variety of items most don’t think about, said Zongker, including cosmetics, tires and chewing gum.
But most Kansas corn, he said, is used for livestock feed and to make ethanol.
The farm organization also dispelled a few myths. For instance, cotton in trees doesn’t make jeans, said Michelle Zongker, holding up a cotton plant taken from a nearby field.
They ended the evening with a farm-to-fork dinner, complete with the Schrocks’ black Angus meatballs, garden-raised green beans, potatoes, corn, fresh muffins and homemade ice cream.
Diane Schrock said she even went over to her neighbors and got farm-made butter.
Hutchinson YP member Brooke Raya said she has lived in Kansas all her life, but she didn’t really know anyone intimately who farms.
Steve Curtin grew up in Massachusetts and came to Hutchinson as a golf pro at Prairie Dunes Country Club. In January, he took a job with Farm Bureau Financial Services.
But Curtin didn’t grow up around agriculture. With several of his clients involved in farming, he jumped at the opportunity to learn more.
“All the products that come from cattle are amazing to me,” he said, adding, “The food is delicious.”
Sarah Napolitano, who works in human resources at DCI, said she was born in Germany and had no connections to Kansas farming.
“I wanted to come out here learn a little bit more and take it back to her,” she said.
Napolitano’s mother recently moved to a 12-acre farm near Miltonvale. Her mom is interested in growing vegetables and raising a few livestock, including chickens.
The machinery costs and the technology farmers use was eye-opening, Napolitano added.
That was the goal, Jenny Burgess said: to be transparent and give those far removed from agriculture a little education.
“There are so many misconceptions, especially with the Internet,” Burgess said, adding, “We are in the schools teaching kids, but that message doesn’t always get passed to the adults.”