This semester the fifth grade teachers at Amboy Jr. High and I are partnering to bring Ag in the Classroom to their students in a unique way. During the next two months the classes will be reading Beef Princess of Practical County and Little Joe, two amazingly accurate books about young kids picking out, caring for, preparing and showing their first cattle at the county fair. The teachers are planning to use several Ag in the Classroom lessons and finish with a mock county fair at the school complete with ribbons, great fair food and games.
So, to kick off this educational experiment of sorts, I thought the students would benefit from meeting an honest to goodness cattle show-woman. Enter Lea Koning, a young 4-H and FFA member.
Lea joined the classes on Friday, tasked with describing to fifth graders what it means to show cattle. She came armed with a bag of visuals and a powerpoint. I have to admit I was worried. I wondered how she was going to make showing cattle – an activity that does not resonate with many – interesting.
There was no need for concern. Lea knocked it out of the park.
She described the auction where she found her first show heifer. She said she looked the calf in the eye and it winked at her. I laughed out loud at the students’ reactions. “Do cows really wink?!”
They most certainly do. It happens when an animal – cat, dog, gerbil, steer, pig, goat, lamb – looks you in the eye, holds your stare with those dark pools of mystery, and seems to say, “I trust you’ll do your best with me.” That’s the wink Lea was describing.
As she talked about caring for the calf, preparing for the fair and then saying that heart-wrenching final good bye, I wished all the doubters could have been in that room, all the individuals who so easily level ignorant allegations at farming, 4-H and FFA, the allegations that teaching youth to raise livestock for the purpose of consumption or human use is desensitizing and barbaric.
I wish they could have heard Lea’s passion, her love, her commitment to caring for her show cattle. The hours she carves out from her busy days to feed, water, bed, groom and befriend an 1100 plus pound animal is giving her life skills I’m sure she can’t fully appreciate right now.
But maybe one day, she’ll be me, sitting at the back of a classroom listening to a 4-H member describe her first cow wink, and she’ll know the power of those days spent in a barn. Lea certainly reminded me.