- Associated Press - Sunday, June 15, 2014

TEXARKANA, Ark. (AP) - What color milk does a black cow produce?

Did you know tree sap is an ingredient in chewing gum and crayons?

How safe is drinking water that filters through pesticide-soaked soil?

Miller County youngsters ages 9 to 19 learned the answers to these questions and more as they spent a day exploring the outdoors and outdoor-related careers during the 2014 4-H Back to Nature program.

Sponsored by University of Arkansas Miller County Extension Office and Miller County Conservation District, the outdoors excursion wouldn’t be possible without the help of numerous volunteers from groups such as Miller County Red Dirt Master Gardeners and Red River Cattlemen’s Association, as well as the 42 businesses and organizations who donated to the cause.

Doug Petty, Miller County extension agent, said he’s been involved with the Back to Nature outing since its inception 17 years ago. His co-worker and friend, Extension Agent John Turner, offers his family’s farm as the venue, and through the years, more than 3,000 students have taken part in the daylong event.

“It’s all about getting the kids outdoors, with no television and no videos,” Petty told the Texarkana Gazette (https://bit.ly/TL3B6p). “They learn a lot, but they also have a lot of fun.”

Turner agreed, noting the primary objective of the program is to show children the variety of careers available in agriculture.

“This is a community-based program aimed at kids who don’t have much opportunity to spend time outdoors,” Turner said.

Harry Willems of Little Rock brought the Arkansas Farm Bureau’s custom-made combine simulator to show kids how farmers are able to harvest everything from corn and wheat to timber and cotton.

“It’s one of a kind,” Willems said of the simulator. “We built it ourselves, and we take it all over the state, from fairs to classrooms.”

Jennifer Caraway, director of Four States Fair Agriculture Learning Center in Texarkana, said she’s taken part in the program for the past six years. She brought a variety of farm animals for students to learn about, including meat and dairy cattle, a horse, pig, goat and chicken.

“A lot of children don’t have a clue where their food comes from, and neither do some adults,” Caraway said. “Our programs are geared to teach where our food comes from, from farm to fork.”

Janie Garner and Douglas Cherry, firefighters with Arkansas Forestry Commission, gave students plenty of information about their business using a game called Tree Jeopardy!

Students vied to win the game, but everyone came away a winner.

“Children are so surprised to learn girls can drive bulldozers and put out fires,” Garner said.

Other educational exhibits were sponsored by Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, Natural Resources Conservation District, the Army Corps of Engineers, Red River Army Depot and Ouachita County Extension Service.

Turner said the first year of the event, only 12 children ventured into the outdoors, but they have since hosted more than 200 some years. This year, 155 mostly-city-children came out to enjoy the sunshine.

“The morning is for education, and the afternoon is for recreation,” Turner explained.

The afternoon was spent with the children enjoying boat rides, hayrides and mud trucks and Garland Agviation provided a crop duster plane demonstration.

___

Information from: Texarkana Gazette, https://www.texarkanagazette.com

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