WORTHINGTON — Nearly 250 middle schoolers got to spend a “day on the farm” Thursday thanks to the Nobles County Corn and Soybean Growers.

The sixth-graders were bused out to the Matt and Teresa Widboom and Tim Hansberger farms north of Worthington, where they got to meet area farmers, see live animals and large equipment and learn about the numerous ways agriculture impacts their lives on a daily basis.

“Agriculture is the backbone of Nobles County and impacts everyone,” said Matt Widboom, chairperson of the Nobles County Corn and Soybean Growers. “Educating the next generation about how important agriculture is to Minnesota begins with visits like these.”

At the Hansberger farm, students visited a soybean field, learned about soybean and corn harvest, got to climb inside a grain bin and learned about the importance of farm safety.

At the Widboom farm, students pet donkeys and chickens, learned the difference between meat and laying hens and about pork and beef production. Nobles County Corn and Soybean Growers member Dusty Neugebauer also taught youths about corn and ethanol production.

Nobles County Corn and Soybean Grower member Matt Widboom shows a group of Worthington middle schoolers some eggs fresh from the coop. (Alyssa Sobotka/The Globe)
Nobles County Corn and Soybean Grower member Matt Widboom shows a group of Worthington middle schoolers some eggs fresh from the coop. (Alyssa Sobotka/The Globe)

Students not only learned about meat and crop production, but also the numerous by-products livestock and crops provide. Many students seemed to understand that ethanol helps fuel vehicles, but less realized animal by-products are also commonly used in products like chewing gum and makeup.

Thursday’s tours even provided students the perspective of a farmer’s harsh reality following several days of persistent rain. With disposable shoe slippers, students cautiously maneuvered about the farm, looking for the least muddy path.

The farm tours were the first-ever experience for several of the middle schoolers, which was an exciting moment.

“When we pulled up (in the bus), students stood up in their seats and were oohing and aahing because some of them have never been so close to livestock or machinery,” said Worthington sixth-grade teacher Spencer Wieneke of the kids' excitement.

Worthington Middle schoolers feed and pet donkeys on the Matt and Teresa Widboom farm. (Alyssa Sobotka/The Globe)
Worthington Middle schoolers feed and pet donkeys on the Matt and Teresa Widboom farm. (Alyssa Sobotka/The Globe)

Exposing youths to the farm and giving them factual information about how their food is produced is a huge part of the organization’s goal.

“Everyone is so disconnected from the farm now, it’s nice to bring that back,” said Andrew Dierks, a rural Reading farmer and Nobles County Corn and Soybean Growers member who helped with Thursday’s tours.

Andrew Dierks shows Worthington middle school students a bean field on the Hansberger farm north of Worthington. (Alyssa Sobotka/The Globe)
Andrew Dierks shows Worthington middle school students a bean field on the Hansberger farm north of Worthington. (Alyssa Sobotka/The Globe)

Bill Gordon, who is active in local and national corn and soybean producers advocacy organizations, said any opportunity to talk to kids about farming is a positive experience.

“It’s enjoyable to show them what we do and teach them where their food comes from,” Gordon said.

Gordon and other tour guides also stressed to students the importance of farm safety — from being in close proximity to an auger and power take-off shaft, to following in a vehicle behind slow moving, large equipment on the roadway.

“If we can save one kid from getting hurt, it’s worth all the time in the world,” Gordon said.

Thursday’s farm tours are just part of the Nobles County Corn and Soybean Growers’ initiative to educate area students about the farming industry.

Later this winter, local farmers will head into the classroom and provide a lesson regarding the business side of farming.

Students will also watch a video the group created several years ago, which provides snapshots into the annual farming cycle.