South Farm Showcase sows interest in agriculture

Sunday, September 22, 2013 | 3:58 p.m. CDT; updated 6:20 p.m. CDT, Sunday, September 22, 2013
Children run through a hay bale maze Saturday at the South Farm Showcase in Columbia.

COLUMBIA — The twisting passageways were confusing enough for families navigating the solid green walls of a dense corn maze on Saturday afternoon. But Audrey Rischer, 8, and her brother Christian, 10, took it upon themselves to make it even more difficult.

"Dead end! Dead end!" the siblings shrieked as they sprinted past mothers pushing strollers and fathers with kids perched on their shoulders trying to look over the top of the corn for a way out.

"We got to trick people," Audrey said with a playful spark in her eye. "We yelled 'dead end' when it wasn't even a dead end, and they actually believed us!"

Trickery in the corn maze was the highlight of Audrey's day at Saturday's South Farm Showcase.

South Farm acts as both a farm and a teaching laboratory for about 2,500 college students in the agriculture program. Each year, the learning lab opens its doors to families for a free day on the farm to learn about agriculture and wildlife in a playful way.

"We've got everything from insect eating to wine tasting, from feeling the inside of a cow's stomach to petting snakes," John Poehlmann, assistant director of the Missouri Agricultural Experiment Station, said as he stood at a busy junction between the corn maze, a baby-animal petting zoo and a pumpkin-selling tent.

"It's also exposure to the community of what we do, and it hopefully endears us to them as a component of the community," Poehlmann said.

This was the showcase's sixth year. The event has been growing steadily each year, with only small changes being made. This year, more agriculture student organizations were involved, Poehlmann said.

The tractor route was different as well. Originally used as shuttles to other areas of the farm, Poehlmann realized visitors viewed them more as hayrides, so the shuttle route was lengthened.

After a scenic hayride from the maze and petting zoos, families arrived at the MU Equine Teaching Facility, where they could pet horses and pigs, try to milk a cow and see a falcon on its perch. Each station was staffed with MU students eager to help and explain things to the kids.

"The kids really like it. It's so educational, as opposed to just playing all day," said Brad Kennon, who was there with his 2-year-old.

Audrey learned something as well after she'd finished causing confusion in the corn maze.

She was hesitant at first about petting a thin orange and black snake.

"Is it poisonous?" she whispered as she gingerly petted it.

"Nope, none of these are," the snake's handler replied. Audrey breathed a sigh of relief when she found out it was just a pet.

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