MOUNT GREENWOOD — Xavier Carter, 9, just thought crayons came from a box.
That changed on Thursday as the third-grade student at James Wadsworth STEM Elementary School in Woodlawn received hands-on demonstrations about the importance of farming.
Xavier was one of 415 children who visited the Chicago High School for Agricultural Sciences in Mount Greenwoood just ahead of National Agriculture Day on March 25. The seventh annual event was coordinated by the Cook County Farm Bureau.
Mike Borgie of the Illinois Pork Producers Association shared with Xavier's class of 18 students insight on how pigs are raised and the important role the animals play in our everyday lives.
Borgie, of Springfield, was one of eight presenters at the high school at 3857 W. 111th St. All of the instructors focused on a specific aspect of Illinois agriculture.
Julie Blunier of the Illinois Soybean Association spoke about the many uses of the Illinois' second-largest crop (after corn).
Soybeans are also used to make crayons, as well as biodiesel, cooking oil, ink and animal feed, Blunier said.
"Did you guys know you use that many soybeans?" she asked.
Beth Christian of Concordia University in suburban River Forest told students about the significance of both chickens and eggs. Children were able to inspect the eggs and later hold newborn chicks.
A bright smile came over the face of Angel Raymond, 9, of Wadsworth Elementary, as she was handed a tiny bird. The yellow chick peeped loudly while cupped within her fingers.
"My favorite part was holding the chick and rubbing it," Angel said.
Greg Stack of the University of Illinois Extension used a fast-paced presentation to get the children excited about horticulture. One activity had children match up fruits to the plants that produced them.
Another of Stack's hands-on demonstrations had children smell various plants and guess how they are used. This included a mint plant.
"It tastes ands smells like Wrigley's Spearmint gum," Stack said. "That's where Wrigley's gets its mint from."
Barbara Bennett teaches the third-grade students at Wadsworth Elementary. Her grandparents owned a farm in Mississippi, but she said even she didn't realize how intertwined agriculture was within our everyday lives.
Bennett added that the all students participating in the National Agriculture Day in Mount Greenwood were either from the city or nearby suburbs. Most of them have very little knowledge about the role of farming, she said.
"This is one of the best field trips we could have ever done," she said.