STATE COLLEGE — Theater folks talk about cattle calls, but State College Area High School featured the real deal Monday.
Cows stood in pens along the North Building parking lot, presenting an unusual sight for Westerly Parkway motorists. Tobi, Silver and Sweetheart, all Holsteins, joined Spook, a Hereford, and other livestock in the first Agriculture Awareness Fair.
The brainchild of Heather Wasson, the State College Little Lions FFA Chapter vice president, the fair brought together several educational displays and farming equipment as well as the animals. Across the street beside the South Building, the annual State High Renaissance Faire simultaneously took place.
Wasson, whose family runs a Ferguson Township dairy farm, organized the fair for her senior project to educate her fellow students.
She said Ag Progress Days, the Centre County Grange Encampment and Fair and Penn State programs and events give suburban and town students plenty of opportunities to learn about modern agriculture.
“But they don’t take the chances,” she said. “If they’re not going to go out to those, why don’t I bring it to them?”
She pitched her idea first to Paul Heasley, an agricultural science teacher and FFA chapter adviser, and eventually to North Building Principal Curtis Johnson, who recommended the fair as a senior project.
Family and FFA chapter members lent a hand. Adding to Sweetheart, who came from the Wasson farm, they supplied other cattle, goats, lambs and two piglets.
The fair also included Centre County 4-H displays, ice cream and cheese sampling booths, tractors and a giant combine harvester and Penn State’s tractor rollover simulator.
Hoober Inc. brought its high-tech Precision Ag Training Center trailer, and the state Department of Agriculture’s WoodMobile made an appearance to teach about the timber industry and the uses of wood in commercial products.
Heasley said Wasson and chapter members drew on their local and statewide agricultural connections.
“This is a nice group effort by a lot of people,” he said.
Throughout the day, students streamed through the fair, enjoying ice cream donated by Meyer Dairy and the Mid-Atlantic Dairy Association and free popcorn from the school’s Roar Store.
Junior Hayley Couch and sophomore Aubrey Bennett, stopping to pet Tobi, wondered aloud if cows know their names.
Tobi couldn’t provide an answer, but nonetheless, the students said they learned a lot from the fair.
“I think it’s very informational,” Couch said. “I think I’ve gained new respect for the kids in FFA.”
“It’s very impressive,” Bennett said.
Livestock pens, equipment and other displays offered facts galore. One sign, for example, stated Pennsylvania ranks fifth in dairy production in the country, the state is home to 553,000 cows and 7,200 dairy farms, and the average herd size is 45 cows.
At a crop exhibit, students could learn that 1 acre of wheat yields an average of 40 bushels, with one bushel producing 42 pounds of white flour or 60 pounds of wheat flour. One acre of soybeans, on the other hand, can make more than 82,000 crayons.
Students also saw how expensive farming can be. The mammoth 2014 John Deere tractor on display costs $310,000.
“We want the kids to realize how high-tech farming is and what’s involved with it,” said Ron Wasson, Heather Wasson’s father.
Peter Muto left with a better understanding.
The senior said he liked hearing at the Precision Ag Training Center how farmers can use GPS technology to coordinate seed and fertilizer placement.
“The fair is definitely great,” Muto said. “I’m glad they put it on. Even though we live in agricultural Pennsylvania, a lot of people in State College don’t know what’s going on in farming.”
Heather Wasson knows the life. She milked her cows at 4:30 a.m. before the fair, and had to pack up in time to make the afternoon milking.
“Cows have got to be milked every day of the year,” she said, “whether it’s holidays, birthdays or Christmas.”
Chris Rosenblum can be reached at 231-4620. Follow him on Twitter @CRosenblumNews.