Fair takes education a step further

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Barnyard Buddies has been part of the Waller County Fair and Rodeo for several years, and this year will be joined by another education program, Ag Voyage.

HEMPSTEAD, Texas – The Waller County Fair and Rodeo’s main mission is the children.

Whether it’s showing livestock at the show-barn or displaying foods and wares, the bottom line is in the education of youth. Those who are involved in showing at the fair are constantly around agriculture for the majority of their lives; it is something passed on through generations and is vital to this county.

There’s more to educating youth than giving them an opportunity to showcase their months of hard work, and the Waller County Fair Association realizes this. One recent display was the establishment of Barnyard Buddies, a program that offers a day at the fair for children with special needs.

Now in its fifth year, Barnyard Buddies will take place from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 2, and will allow Waller County special-needs students to enjoy a day at the fair.

“Not only do we get the special-needs kids here, but we have more kids from various organizations at our schools in Waller County that come to help out,” said Julie Abke, a fair board director who oversees the program. “It gets better every year. This year, we have the Ronald McDonald Shoe Car coming. We will also have new entertainment for the children to see.”

Barnyard Buddies is a special cause for Abke; her mother was a special-education teacher. Abke likes the idea of giving the special-needs children a chance to interact with the fair and enjoy something they might not have a chance to do without the program.

“It’s just great to see the smiles on their faces and them laughing and having a good time,” Abke said. “They do appreciate it, and they do like it.”

More education will happen this year with the creation of Ag Voyage, the new education committee that enables students the opportunity to learn more about the sources of their food and how agriculture affects many different areas of our lives. The children will experience many hands-on activities as they learn about the importance of agriculture.

The idea was the brainchild of another voluteer, Kristy Hyatt, the committee’s chairwoman, and the group chose the name Ag Voyage because, “It’s a journey” toward learning more about agriculture.

“Because the fair’s all about education, we thought it would be really nice to have an educational committee,” Hyatt said. “We will teach kids about different cuts of meat, where cotton comes from, or what grain is used food-wise.

“For those who do not have the ability to show animals, it gives them a chance to learn more about agriculture,” said Crystal Januhowski, a member of the Ag Voyage committee and an associate director of WCFA. “It seems there are less and less people in agriculture, so our long-term goal is to raise more awareness and always remind kids about the importance of agriculture. It’s important, because you have some kids who don’t know where their food comes from, where fresh vegetables come from or what it takes to raise a cow.

“With this program, we want to have those answers and share this with the young people who haven’t had the opportunity to be involved with agriculture. Even now, some people lose sight of what the Waller County Fair is. We don’t want people to lose sight of it.”

This is another of several reasons’ Ag Voyage is so pertinent.

“I think we as a fair should do all we can to educate our community about the importance of agriculture and its place in this fair,” said Matt Hyatt, president of the fair board. “Ag Voyage falls in line with all our principles and what we are trying to do with youth. As our children grow into adults, their understanding of where food comes from is something they can share with the next generation.”

It is creating a mindset in a young person that can conceive a lifetime understanding. After all, that’s what education is about.

“We want to keep kids interested, but this is also about educating the community, too,” Januhowski said. “There are so many important things the community can learn in this process, which is why it means so much to many of us who are associated with the fair.”


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