Ag Awareness Day is a hit

MINNEAPOLIS - The animals attracted Emily Ehlert and Ashley Amland to the tents planted in front of Northrop Memorial Auditorium.

Ag Awareness Day is a hit
An estimated 2,000 people visited Ag Awareness Day on the University of Minnesota's Northrop Mall on April 20.

MINNEAPOLIS - The animals attracted Emily Ehlert and Ashley Amland to the tents planted in front of Northrop Memorial Auditorium.

The University of Minnesota students posed for a photo by the llamas and Ehlert had her picture taken with the sleeping pig, too. They also visited the sheep.

The animals came to the mall as part of Agriculture Awareness Day on April 20, an event organized by students in the University of Minnesota Agricultural Education Club.

An estimated 2,000 people walked through the tented displays to pet the animals, ask questions and learn about agriculture.

"We were hoping a lot of people would come," said Jason Kaare, a U of M sophomore from the Waconia area, who spearheaded the first-ever event.


Kaare, a former state 4-H ambassador, was able to attend a breakfast meeting last spring with U of M president Robert Bruininks and agricultural leaders. The need to educate the non-farm public about agriculture came up often during the meeting and Kaare said the idea of holding a student-run, student-driven ag awareness event came to him.

He pitched the idea to fellow members of the Agricultural Education Club and they backed the idea. Club members dived into planning and organizing the event. They mailed postcards to all 6,000 students who live in on-campus housing. They set up a facebook page and attracted about 750 fans. They also staffed Agriculture Awareness Day, doing everything from setting up pens to cleaning up manure.

Kaare was in the thick of things, giving interviews after making sure the llama pen was clean.

There was a lot of paperwork required to make Agriculture Awareness Day a reality, he said. Their greatest hurdle was a committee that reviewed and eventually granted their request to bring animals to the Minneapolis campus.

As a result of the committee's decision, three sheep, two llamas, two chickens, a beef cow-calf pair, a pig and a dairy calf came to Northrop Mall.

Kaare and fellow members of the Farmhouse Fraternity were up between 4:30 and 5 a.m. to haul the gates from their parking lot to Northrop Mall. The gates were borrowed from the CHS Miracle of Birth Center.

Set up started at 6 a.m., and some people were watching set up, said Theresa Twohey of Stewartville, a U of M freshman majoring in agricultural education. The animals arrived between 7:30 a.m. and 8 and the event officially began at 9 a.m. and ended at 4 p.m.

Twohey coordinated the dairy part of the awareness day, which included a three-month-old crossbred dairy calf and a Midwest Dairy Association booth. Princess Kay Elizabeth Olson gave out 1,000 pieces of string cheese by midday at the MDA booth.


The heifer calf on display was a Montbeliarde, Swedish Red and Holstein cross from the U of M St. Paul campus.

Twohey was asked what color milk the heifer would give and many general questions that indicated people wanted to know more.

A member of the Agriculture Awareness Club, Twohey said people had walked through continuously and there had been a big noon rush.

"We never quite imagined it would be this big," she said, or involve so many organizations.

In fact, they had to turn five organizations away because of lack of space, Kaare said.

Before the day was half over, he was already thinking about next year's event.

He's hoping to expand to another location with more space, perhaps the nearby pedestrian-only area of Church Street. It would allow them more space to spread out, he said.

They gathered more than a full page of suggestions on what to change for next year.


Twohey said the event is a way for the St. Paul students to share what they know with their peers from the Minneapolis campus. It's a great way to teach agriculture literacy to those who may be future policy makers, she said.

Political science major Michelle Tetreault agreed.

"This is a fabulous idea," she said.

A lot of people give agriculture a bad rap and there are many vegans on campus, Tetreault said. She learned of the event while checking her campus e-mail and came to Northrop Mall just for Agriculture Awareness Day.

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