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Source: Noble Foundation news release

Twenty students raced to the first station at the Noble Foundation's Science in Ag day and took their places on hay bales. Little did they know, they had just sat on their first lesson.

"Did you know you are sitting on agriculture?" asked Dillon Payne, Noble Foundation cartographer and irrigation associate, who is leading the "picnic basket" station.

While most shook their heads "no," a couple of students shouted, "yes!" "That's right," he continued. "Those hay bales are one of countless products you use every day that are produced by agriculture."

Payne then dug into the picnic basket and held up various fruits and vegetables, asking the students to identify each item's origin. Simple questions. Simple answers. Then Payne pulled sunglasses out of the basket. "I bet you didn't know that these are a result of agriculture, too," he said.

"I wear cows every day in a way that I never would have thought of - sunglasses," said Jade Way, 14. "That's awesome. I had no idea that cow fat is used to make sunglasses."

That's what the picnic basket station - and Science in Ag Day - is all about; learning how agriculture provides our food, clothing and shelter. Way was just one of more than 160 eighth-graders from three schools across south-central Oklahoma who attended the Noble Foundation's fourth annual Science in Ag Day on Tuesday.

The educational event is designed to get youth thinking about agriculture by emphasizing the importance of proper management of natural resources and demonstrating the impact the industry has on almost every facet of society, from food to the economy.

"One hundred years ago, 40 percent of the United States workforce was employed in agriculture. Today, that number is less than 2 percent," said Frank Hardin, Noble Academy education and outreach manager. "As each generation passes, we're appreciating agriculture less. Educating our youth, especially concerning food production, is critical for our future."

During the day, students from Ardmore, Marietta and Wilson rotated among a series of stations. Each stop featured a unique agriculture- or science-related discipline, including economics, forages, genetics, horticulture, livestock, plant breeding and soils. Each area brought a new hands-on experience.

At the soils station, students saw how important soil is to agriculture through a rainfall simulator. A hundred yards away, another group planted their own take-home strawberries as part of their horticulture lesson, while still others participated in a live auction that taught fundamental economics principles.

"My students have been learning about the elements in class," said Sherrita Bright, Ardmore Middle School science teacher.

"The carbon cycle station was a great way to take what they've learned in class and translate it into a hands-on experience. We want our students to have these experiences to increase their awareness about the vital role of agriculture in their lives."

In addition to the hands-on agricultural demonstrations, students participated in scientific research, including a plant breeding presentation where they learned how Noble scientists improve crops through DNA and protein extraction.

"There are so many facets to agriculture, and Science in Ag Day gives them the opportunity to experience it all," said Brad Budish, science teacher at Marietta Middle School. "It gets them thinking about everyday things."

And the students aren't the only ones learning. "This is my first time to attend Science in Ag Day," Budish continued. "I've learned some ways to tie in agriculture to my lessons in class, something I've never thought about doing."

Still, the focus remains on student learning. The day impacted many of their perceptions about the vital - and often overseen - role of agriculture.

"Without agriculture, we wouldn't have much," Way said. "We probably wouldn't even be here today. It definitely makes you think twice."

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