Provider Pals visit Worthington Middle School (with video)
WORTHINGTON -- After corresponding with their Provider Pals for months, more than 120 fifth-graders at Worthington Middle School finally were able to meet their pen pals.
This is the students' second year participating in the program, which connects farmers, loggers, miners and others who work in the natural sciences industry with middle school students.
Visiting the students Friday was logger Bruce Vincent, soybean farmer Ryan Buck, pork producer and ag student Katie Winslow, and turkey producer Mike Langmo.
"We became pen pals and have been corresponding throughout the year," coordinating teacher Julie Bauman said. "It culminates in an activity day where they spend the day with the students and teach them about their careers."
A third-generation logger from Libby, Mont., Vincent talked to the students about the importance of using wise environmental practices, especially in logging.
"Logging is good for the water, the air and for humans if we do it right," he said, stressing the important role logging plays in protecting against out-of-control and destructive forest fires.
He also shared the basics of his job and encouraged students to explore careers in the outdoors.
"How many of you are interested in satellites or GPS?" Vincent asked as most of the students raised their hands. "There are a lot of jobs in logging beside my part and if you're looking for a career, it's a cool way to make a living."
After giving his presentation, Vincent took the students outside and gave a chainsaw demonstration, cutting a tree cookie -- a cross-section of a tree trunk -- for the students.
"The kids really love seeing the logs being cut and sitting in the John Deere tractor," Bauman said. "They loved meeting their pals and putting a real person with the letters they've been receiving all year."
Katie Winslow, also a student at the University of Minnesota, told the fifth-graders about her role as a pork producer and her background in the agriculture industry. As an education major and the 2012 Minnesota Pork Ambassador, Winslow said working with Provider Pals was a natural choice for her.
"I have always been someone that's loved to talk about my experience as a farmer," she said. "I like to talk to kids and consumers about why agriculture is important to our everyday lives, as well as give them the farmer's side of the story that isn't always told."
Founded in 1998, Provider Pals is a cultural exchange program that connects rural professionals -- farmers, ranchers, miners, loggers, oil field workers and commercial fishermen -- with students in classrooms around the country.
Bauman said even though Worthington is set in a rural area, there are many students who have never visited a farm.
"The biggest thing is that kids are not exposed to the outdoors as a career option or don't know where our food come from," she said.
Teaching students about the agriculture industry and the outdoors is one of the reasons that Winslow participates in Provider Pals.
"I think it's important for students to learn about where their food comes from," she said. "I think it's important for them to put a face to the farmer and a face to who takes care of their food before it gets to their plate."
The Minnesota Soybean Growers Association, Minnesota Turkey Growers Association and Minnesota Pork Producers Association provided funding for Worthington to participate in the Provider Pals program.
Daily Globe Reporter Alyson Buschena may be reached at 376-7322.