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Iowa State University gives non-farm ag students some on-farm experience


Not all students in Iowa State University's College of Agriculture and Life Sciences are "farm kids." In fact, many have never set foot on a farm, let alone a working Iowa farm.

But each semester, groups of students get some quality on-farm time as participants in the college's Agriculture Weekend Experience program. Now in its fifth year, AWE places students without farming backgrounds with host families on working farms. Besides experiencing production farming, students get a firsthand glimpse into the heart of Iowa. The program is cosponsored by the college and the Iowa State University Agricultural Endowment.

"It takes more than classroom learning for students to understand farming and the ag industry," said Laura Rosenbohm, AWE program coordinator. "To succeed in the industry, they also need to understand the people and the demands of on-farm work."

The first weekend in April, five Iowa State students stayed on two farms. Nine students will spend the weekend of April 24 to 26 with three host families.

For Californian Brianna Adamic, the experience was an eye opener. The freshman in animal science/pre-veterinary medicine from a Sacramento suburb had little concept of what life outside the city was like. Before this weekend, all she knew about "what it means to live and work on a farm came from TV, books or other people's stories."

"The weekend opened my eyes to what 'rural' really is," Adamic said. "I would never have expected a post office and elevator to be considered a town."

Adamic--along with Tze Pin Tan, a sophomore in animal science from Malaysia, and Vita Shlyapkina, a junior in animal science from Ukraine--stayed with Louis and Pat Beck in Buckingham. The Becks grow corn and soybeans, and raise sheep, chickens and a few goats.

During the weekend, the two students toured a vertically integrated dairy.

"They showed us all the milk processing and the cows at different stages. And we got to milk cows, bottle feed calves and make our own butter," Adamic said. "I learned a lot about the dairy industry."

Tan, who has worked on her father's small chicken farm in Malaysia, applied for the AWE program because she wanted "a different experience" from what she can gain from her textbooks.

"I wanted to experience the lifestyle of working on a farm in this country," she said.

Helping dock lambs' tails at the Becks' farm, where lambing was under way, was a first for Tan. But she especially enjoyed milking a cow and making butter.

"It was fun, cool and interesting!" Tan said.

"I'm so glad I did this," Adamic said. "I would do it again if get the chance. I learned a lot."

Two students stayed on Don and Marylou Ahrens' crop farm near Osage. They were Nick Ohrstrom, a freshman in agriculture studies from Rock Island, Ill., and Vitalii Siver, an intern in animal science from Ukraine. The Ahrens have hosted AWE students since the program began.

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