- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 6, 2005

Food to feed the world’s burgeoning populations requires the hard work of farmers who work the land and raise animals that eventually produce a wide range of consumables for supermarket shelves.

Children who know little about the agricultural community can benefit from a site developed by an extension of one of the premier educational clubs that, for more than 100 years, has inspired youths to “learn by doing” as they gain valuable life skills.

4-H Virtual Farm

Site address: www.ext.vt.edu/resources/4h/virtualfarm/main.html

Creator: A team of subject-matter specialists, multimedia designers and youth development specialists at the Virginia Cooperative Extension, based at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg developed and maintain the site.

Creator quotable: “We created the 4-H Virtual Farm site to provide youth with an opportunity to learn basic information about agriculture,” says Joe Hunnings, extension specialist for 4-H youth development. “The U.S. continues to become a more urbanized society, and youth growing up today have little knowledge about agriculture or how agricultural products are produced. The 4-H Virtual Farm provides youth with a virtual farming experience that makes them more aware of what the farming industry is like.”

Word from the Webwise: Children in third to fifth grade can take a colorful and media-rich trip to several online farms through a Web site that may not dazzle with high tech-magic, but easily will enlighten.

By clicking on front-page icons, visitors can explore the sections Wheat, Poultry, Dairy, Beef, Aquaculture and Horse Farm that use a variety of designs and interactives to reveal the nuances of farming.

Each photo-rich section follows a pattern that includes introduction to an expert in the field, a stop by a Virginia-specific farm, a discussion on the production process of the food, a scientific look at the product, a specific glossary of terms and a quiz to reinforce the concepts taught.

In the Wheat section, for example, the visitor meets, through a narrated presentation, farmer Courtney Price as he answers six questions about his business. Visitors find out when wheat is grown at Virginia’s Brandon Plantation, use a 360-degree viewer to watch the harvesting of soybeans, work through a 20-page slide show on how wheat gets to the marketplace, and learn the difference between a combine and a plow.

Visitors also should take plenty of time to enjoy the multimedia-rich Horse Farm, which features movies about training and owning horses, interactive activities on identifying different breeds and colors of horses, and a game on matching parts of the beautiful animals.

Ease of use: The 4-H Virtual Farm should be compatible on all operating systems. Its presentations require one of the latest Internet browsers (Netscape 4.79 and above or Internet Explorer 5.5 and above), Apple QuickTime and Macromedia Flash plug-ins.

Don’t miss: Under the Poultry section, designers have posted a great area on studying the chicken to learn about embryology. The Virtual Hatch Project presents eight areas of investigation that begin with a historical background on domestic poultry; highlight the parts of an egg and the science behind egg incubation; and conclude with having visitors determine (through an interactive challenge requiring that they drag eggs over a bright light) which of five eggs is best suited for incubation.

Family activity: 4-H Clubs and enrichment programs are available in all 50 states and give children 9 to 19 years old hands-on experience with leadership and citizenship skills. Those interested in getting involved can stop by the 4-H Web site (www.4husa.org) for more information.

Cyber-sitter synopsis: The 4-H Virtual Farm does a fantastic job of loading children with information about the original source of some of their basic food groups.

Overall grade: A

Remember: The information on the Internet is constantly changing. Please verify the advice on the sites before you act to be sure it’s accurate and updated. Health sites, for example, should be discussed with your own physician.

Have a cool site for the family? Write to Joseph Szadkowski at Webwise, The Washington Times, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, D.C. 20002; call 202/636-3016; or send an e-mail message (jszadkowski@washingtontimes.com).

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