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New Mexico State University

New Mexico State University

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NMSU Science Center Gives Students First-Hand Look at Agriculture

LOS LUNAS - Mike English, superintendent of New Mexico State University's Agricultural Science Center at Los Lunas, held up some freshly picked red and green chile pods in front of about 50 elementary school students one morning in late October.

"We're the only state in the nation with an official state question," he boomed, rows of chile, cotton and corn stretching out behind him. "Anybody know what that is?"

"Red or green," came a chorus-like reply from the students, all seated on a low-rider truck with bales of hay that served as a makeshift outdoor classroom.

"That's right, and it's all about chile, which is an important agricultural crop in New Mexico," English replied.

The students, fifth- and sixth-graders from Daniel Fernandez Intermediate School (DFI) in Los Lunas, were participating in one of about two dozen tours that the science center offered during October. Nearly 1,300 students attended from elementary schools in Valencia, Socorro, and Bernalillo counties. The center began offering the annual tours in 1998 to give children a fun, hands-on lesson in agriculture.

"The main thing is just to let them know where their food comes from, that milk is not just from the grocery store and that blue corn tortillas come from blue corn," English said. "Kids today have virtually no contact with farms, and this gives them a basic understanding of, and, hopefully, an appreciation for agriculture and plant sciences."

The kids take a hayride around the farm, with stops at research plots and other sites. They learn about crops like alfalfa, chile, and corn, and they visit the center's cottonwood production area to hear about tree planting and stream bank restoration. They also learn about weather's importance to agriculture at the weather monitoring station, and they get a lengthy introduction to entomology.

"I'm an entomologist by training, so I go into some depth with them about insects and the insect world," English said. "We have portable showcases with lots of bugs. They really like that, and it helps make the lesson stick in their minds."

The tour concludes in a cornfield, where the children pick popcorn off stalks and then walk through a 1.5-acre field maze.

"The walk through the cornfield and maze gives them a real opportunity to touch and feel, which is the way kids at this age learn best," English said.

Fifth-grade teacher Mary Ann Chavez from Los Lunas, whose classes tour the farm every year, says the field trip complements classroom learning.

"It reinforces what I teach them at school," Chavez said. "Right now we're studying plants and seeds and the process of all this, so it's a great hands-on learning experience to accompany the curriculum."

The children agree. "I learned about corn and vegetables and how to plant trees," said fifth-grader Natashia Bryant. "And they showed us a whole lot of bugs. I really like this place."