Bicyclists stop at schools to discuss farming with students
OAKWOOD – Fifth-grader Elizabeth Gutterridge lives across the street from a farm, but she never knew how important agriculture is in everyday life and football until Tuesday.
"I had no idea (agriculture) had anything to do with football," said Elizabeth, 11, after she and the entire Oakwood Grade School student body joined in a Tuesday assembly sponsored by the Illinois Farm Bureau's Ag in the Classroom program.
The students learned that ag products like pork, cotton, soybeans, corn, dairy and beef play an important role in football games.
Leather footballs are made from cow skin. The players' shoulder pads and helmets are plastic made using hog fat. Fans eat hot dogs and pork sandwiches. Players and fans wear shirts made from cotton, and money to buy concessions is 70 percent cotton fiber. Ink used to print game tickets is made from soybeans. Deodorant on the players includes ultra-absorbent corn starch, while nachos and popcorn come from corn, too. Soft drinks contain corn syrup, and some fans drive to the game with ethanol – a corn-based fuel – in their vehicles.
"I think (agriculture) is more important than I thought it was," said Elizabeth.
Her farm lesson came courtesy of several volunteers who were biking across East Central Illinois, stopping at various elementary schools as part of the Illinois Agriculture Association Foundation's 10th Annual Bike Ride for Ag in the Classroom.
About 90 bicyclists left Champaign-Urbana on Tuesday morning and headed east toward Vermilion County, where they split into smaller groups and stopped at three elementary schools, including Oakwood, Catlin Elementary School and Southwest Elementary School. They biked back to Champaign-Urbana for the night.
At each school, the bikers and Ag in the Classroom officials showed students how agriculture is important in their daily lives. The event continues today and Thursday with riders sweeping through schools in Champaign County today and Macon County on Thursday. Both nights, they will end their loop rides back in Champaign-Urbana.
Scott Crawford of Georgetown, a Country insurance agent and fifth-generation farmer, rode in Tuesday's circuit, which at most was 100 miles. Crawford plans to bike all three days.
"I'm certainly aware of what impact agriculture has on the economy of Vermilion County, and most youngsters in our area, other than driving along the road and seeing farms, are not aware of its impact," he said. "So, I'm aware of the need of continued exposure to ag in the classrooms, and showing students how it impacts their lives in ways they don't ordinarily see."
In addition to teaching students, the bike ride serves as a fundraiser for Ag in the Classroom, a statewide program that provides teachers with farming-related education materials and sponsors ag-related learning activities at schools, such as Tuesday's event at Oakwood Grade School.
All the riders gathered in downtown Danville for a pork sandwich lunch that was open to the public and raised funds for the program. From there, the bikers headed west again.
Crawford's group took a pit stop in Sidney for ice cream on their way back to Champaign-Urbana. Crawford, who's been an active bicyclist for at least the last 10 years, said Tuesday's event was enjoyable.
"It's just a nice group of people to ride with," he said. "It's just wonderful."