PLATTSBURGH Clinton County Fairgrounds was a busy place on Sept. 19 as area sixth graders gathered to take part in Cornell Cooperative Extension's Environmental Awareness Field Day. A hundred and sixty students from Beekmantown, a hundred and forty from Saranac, twenty-five from Seton Academy, and five North Country home-schoolers rotated between twelve stations, learning from volunteer instructors who were experts in their respective fields. Maple syrup experts Pat and Earl Parker, who operate the Parker Family Maple Farm in West Chazy and has been family owned and operated since 1889, shared their knowledge with the youths. The Parkers highlighted some of the aspects of their operation, such as the fact they use a hundred miles of tubing on their farm to collect sap from 20,000 maple trees. The Parkers also conserve energy by utilizing a reverse osmosis machine, which reduces time the sap has to boil in the evaporator. The students also enjoyed looking at artifacts from the early years of maple-syrup operation, and sampling Parker brand maple syrup.
Poet and storyteller Jeff Cochran led his audience through poems and songs with motions to help them remember the basics of tree biology, such as the life cycle of a tree. His station was titled Tree Dancing.
Master gardeners John and Shirley Beauharnois taught the children about the propagation of seeds. A picnic table covered with a variety of wild and garden plants provided many object lessons, including the story of how the burdock plant inspired a man to invent Velcro.
Cornell Cooperative Extension's new dairy educator, Blake Putnam, showed the students a tableful of products some never would have guessed contained ingredients from dairy cows. She also gave them a fun-facts quiz about dairy cows that contained some more surprising dairy facts.
Gary Frenia, retired environmental manager from Georgia Pacific, and Robert Jock, current environmental manager, taught the children about paper making and forestry. Each student had the opportunity to make a small piece of paper.
Amy Ivy, from Cornell Cooperative Extension, gave students many pointers about how they can save energy at home. She stressed little things can really make a big difference in conserving energy, especially if we all chip in and conserve.
If every family in the U.S. put in just one compact fluorescent light bulb for a year, enough energy would be saved to run two and a half-million homes for a year, she said.
Recycling was the focus of the station run by Northern Sanitation employees Jaime Warren and Melissa LaClair. The youths were divided into two teams and played the Recycling Quiz Game, which revealed parents and teachers have successfully instilled the importance of recycling in the next generation. However, teachers and students alike were stumped when they were asked what was the most recycled commodity in the world, The surprising answer: automobiles.
Gary Foster, with the state Department of Environmental Conservation, caught the students' attention with his collection of wild animal pelts from the Adirondack region. He taught the children about each animal and how they can be helpful or a nuisance. He also stressed the dangers to humans and wild animals when people feed them, and told the children to always leave baby animals alone.
Their parents often leave them unattended for hours and they aren't really lost or abandoned, Mr. Foster said.
At the Greener Miles station, children enjoyed snacking on locally grown apples donated by Rulf's Orchards, Peru, and Banker's Orchards, Plattsburgh. Jordy Wood, Cornell Cooperative Extension nutrition educator, led the students through a game revealing the surprising source of the majority of the types of food we eat. Most of our food travels 1,500 miles before we bring it home. She pointed out the many advantages of buying locally grown food whenever possible.
Plant biologist Mike Davis, from the EV Baker Research Farm in Willsboro and the Miner Institute, ran the Tomato Talk station. Through the use of a question-and-answer game, he introduced the students to many new facts about our food system. His last question, Are tomatoes poisonous? seemed like an obvious no to his audience. The fruit isn't poisonous, but don't go eating those tomato leaves!
Colleen Hickey, from the Lake Champlain Basin Program, used her blue bag of wetland metaphors to teach the children the importance of wetlands to the health of our environment, especially the lakes. As students took turns pulling items out of the bag, she discussed with them how wetlands were like each item.
At the final station, master gardeners Wayne Rowe and Don Brewer instructed the children about the art of tree planting and stressed the importance of trees to a healthy environment. Each child was sent home with a balsam tree seedling to plant.
At the conclusion of the program, many students discussed their favorite stations. Seton's Emily Sola favored the maple-syrup station, while classmate Natasha Clark liked Tree Dancing best. Hannah Racette, a home-school student from Redford, preferred yet another station.
I come from a very environmental family, Hannah said, so I already have a lot of knowledge. I liked 'Tomato Talk' best because that is where I learned the most.
The fun day of learning was made possible through the sponsorship of Banker's Orchards, Rulf's Orchards, Noon Kiwanis Club, Clinton County Fair and Georgia Pacific. Much planning and hard work from the Cornell Cooperative Extension staff and the volunteers who cared enough to donate their time and expertise is also credited for making the event possible.