South Farm Showcase educates children, parents about science

Saturday, September 24, 2011 | 5:26 p.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — Dama, a black border collie, chased a herd of sheep around obstacles at Danny Shilling's order.

Meanwhile, Jessica Bock watched the dog-herding show with her 2-year-old son and 3-year-old daughter.

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"The kids seem to like it," Bock said. 

Shilling was invited to demonstrate dog-herding at South Farm Showcase, an event centered around science and learning. He brought four sheep and three dogs for the dog-herding performance. 

The free event is sponsored by the MU College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources. It is run by volunteers and hosts a number of college groups, such as the Mizzou Hydrogen Car Team and the MU Agronomy Club.

The showcase featured a wide array of informational booths and activities, including a corn maze, wagon rides, $10 hot air balloon rides and a trained hawk demonstration.  South Farm also showcased demonstrations in dog training, herding and bug sweeping from 10 a.m. until noon.

John Poehlmann, assistant director of the Missouri Agricultural Experiment Station, said South Farm is a mixture of science and fun.

“It’s got everything from biofuel and turfgrass information to dog-training demonstrations, all of which are matched up with things the kids can enjoy and their parents will enjoy as well,” Poehlmann said.

Poehlmann estimated that 3,000 people came out to the event, an increase from last year's 1,300 attendees.

South Farm consists of 1,452 acres, home to the Swine Research Complex, the Beef Research and Teaching Farm and the Turf Center and the Horse Farm. Poehlmann said $50 million of research has been put into South Farm.

The Agronomy Club showcased soybeans, corn, sorghum, wheat and rice on plates, as well as tofu, Coca-Cola, molasses, crackers and rice patties.

"Which one is sorghum, and which one is wheat?" asked Garth Duncan, one of the six volunteers for the booth. "Where do crackers come from?" 

Duncan gave a quiz to 7-year-old Caleb Conner about food ingredients. The Agronomy Club added the quiz this year to attract kids and educate the parents through their children. Duncan said some adults don't realize that soda has corn syrup in it.

Thelma Conner, Caleb's grandmother, said she brought Caleb to the South Farm Showcase last year and had a lot fun. She said she decided to bring his sister, Lila, this time to see how they enjoy it.

"It is fun for kids. They learn things," Conner said.

Another booth featured Tigergen II, the winning hydrogen car made by the Mizzou Hydrogen Car Team. The group promotes awareness of alternative fuels and technology.

Bryce Guinn, treasurer of the Mizzou Hydrogen Car Team, said each year the group participates in the Shell Eco-marathon.  The competition challenges students to create energy-efficient cars. Last year the team placed first for the hydrogen category in the UrbanConcept division.

A mere 40 feet away, children huddled around the herpetology booth to pet snakes and lizards as their parents enjoyed a wine-tasting provided by the MU Institute for Continental Climate Viticulture & Enology.

Poehlmann said they plan on holding the event again next year.

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