Talking with Ka Ying Vang of Menomonie, a soil conservationist with U.S. Department of Agriculture, it’s clear that getting children involved with the environment early is the best way to create future conservationists.
Earlier this month, about 120 fifth graders from Boyceville and Colfax gathered at the Bjornson Education-Recreation Center in Knapp to take part in a educational field day. Later, 75 students at Elk Mound Middle School took part in the same event. The aim is to give these children some kind of background in natural resources.
“It gives them a respect for the environment and natural resources,” Vang said.
At eight stations teachers and students spend about 20 minutes learning about a variety of topics. Students get insight into recycling, stream ecology, soil health, wildlife, native species, invasive species and water pollution.
For instance at the soil station, the children may learn about some of the tools a soil scientist uses like a ground penetrating radar. Vang said it works kind of like sonar. It allows you to see the different soils 20 to 50 feet below your feet. It's something that can be used to find sinkholes.
So they literally get to play in the dirt, Vang says.
“Seeing the students having fun and at the same time you see them learning as well,” he said.
Vang would like to expand the program to other counties and other schools. It’s been ongoing since 2015.
But, right now there is only room for two days out of the year to host this. One reason is that resources at USDA are limited. Vang said he and others do this on top of their day-to-day duties.
“Our mission is to help people help the land,” he said.
It’s important to Vang because this is one of the few days where they can interact with children.
“It puts a little smile to your face,” he said. “We might have a little conservationist growing up here.”