As we move into fall, exciting events are on the horizon. One is an educational experience school kids really enjoy.
More than 1,000 fourth-graders from public and private schools will eagerly throng to Kids & Kows and More in late October. There they’ll learn about the different aspects and importance of agriculture, ranching, and water. School buses from Hidalgo, Cameron, and Willacy counties will ferry young students to this one-day annual event.
Launched in the 1980s by the Texas Agri-Women as AgFair in El Paso, this free event is designed to introduce young students to agriculture and familiarize them with the basics of where things like cotton, sugar, and corn come from and about how important agriculture is. Similar events now take place across the state.
Two people were instrumental in bringing AgFair to the Valley — Nelda Barrera, field representative with the Texas Department of Agriculture (TDA), and Barbara Steidinger, a member of Texas Agri-Women and a decades-long Valley farmer and citrus grower. Steidinger, who’s been involved with this event from its early days, credits Barrera and the involvement of TDA for its success. As TDA got word out to more schools, they were able to increase the number of kids coming to the event, Steidinger said.
“It grew and grew,” she said, from 1,000 to around 3,000 kids.
Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service and Southwest Dairy Farmers partnered with TDA and Texas Agri-Women “to make this an outstanding educational event,” Steidinger added.
A lot of people have a hand in what’s now Kids & Kows and More, said Roxy Blood, a 26-year teacher at Roosevelt Elementary School in Weslaco. The Water Irrigation District and Texas Farm Bureau also jumped onboard.
As the event’s message went wider, more kids wanted to attend. Outgrowing the original Donna Livestock Grounds location, it landed briefly at the Armory before finding a home at the Rio Grande Valley Livestock Showgrounds.
While the event’s exhibits change each year, the wide variety of live demonstrations and presentations kids experience are geared to the area’s agriculture. These include:
- honeybee demonstrations, featuring live honeybees
- the water district demonstrates cleaning water
- sugarcane — kids learn how it grows, is harvested and becomes sugar
- horticulture, including what’s grown in our area
- citrus and production — the ABCs of growing and follow-through
- animals — sheep, goats, and cattle and the products they produce
- cotton, including the growing process and going from field to the fabric we wear
Presenters educate kids about where their product comes from, what happens to it once it’s harvested, and. It’s all to dispel the all-too-common belief by kids that these things simply come from a supermarket.
One of the kids’ favorite presentations is the Southwest Dairy Farmers’ mobile dairy. Kids get to see a live cow and a milking machine. They even get to milk the cow.
“The milking demonstration’s always a favorite,” Blood said.
Blood, whose dad was a farmer, has attended this event for about nine years. Each year, she brings from 80 to 100 fourth-graders from her school alone.
“It’s an introduction to the kids on the importance of agriculture,” Blood said. And the kids always get materials to take home with them, like reusable bags, crossword puzzles, or pencils.
“They all have some educational value to them,” she said. “So many of our kids don’t realize or understand where our food comes from, what goes into bringing our clothes to us. It’s a good eye opener to kids today (and) a great educational experience.”
“The whole deal is about agriculture awareness,” said Brad Cowan, Hidalgo County’s Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service County Extension agent-agriculture.
Cowan says they send invitations to the event to all the fourth-grade classes in Cameron and Hidalgo counties. Last year, around 1,300 kids attended. That’s a good jump from the 500 to 600 students that attended the first event 18 years ago.
The event has evolved over the years, often reflecting the state’s economic situation. Initially a one-day event, by 2010 it grew to three, with upward of 1,300 kids attending daily. Breakfast was provided for speakers, with a VIP lunch for local dignitaries. Speakers talked of the importance of education and restaurants got gift bags for their help in educating kids.
In 2011, the state’s severe budget cuts affected school districts. Suddenly, there was a fee associated with field trips, costs for providing buses, and other components of the experience. Everything scaled back, Barrera said. And Kids & Kows and More saw registration drop. Now a one-day format, kids get a lunch of hotdogs, chips, and milk.
Is there lasting value for kids who attend? Barrera says there is — and her research proves it.
From 2003 to 2005, while earning her master’s degree, she did a research project on the program. She measured the level of knowledge gained, giving tests to kids and teachers prior to the event and tests when they left. Barrera measured the percentage of knowledge they gained to discover what they learned.
In the beginning, kids had to submit one-page essays, she said. Contest winners received gift certificates.
Steidinger remembers elementary school teacher friends during the earlier days of KK&More who said this was one of the best field trips for their kids in the Valley. Teachers told her the kids could retain what they learned there.
“I was very proud of this,” Steidinger said.
This year’s Kids & Kows and More will again be at the Rio Grande Valley Livestock Showgrounds in Mercedes on Oct. 31. Deadline to register is Oct. 21. Teachers are encouraged to register early to ensure as many kids as possible can be part of this informative, engaging event. It’s a great way for kids to learn what the Valley has to offer in an interactive, eye-opening, and fun way.
To register for this year’s Kids & Kows and More, go online to http://counties.agrilife.org/hidalgo/kkm. Sign up today!
A freelance journalist and professional blogger, Debra Atlas is reachable