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Mancos Conservation District offers hands-on learning at Ag Expo

Technician uses trailer to teach water erosion
Patrick Clements, center, teaches kids how to tell different soils apart at the 2017 Four States Ag Expo.

This weekend, a technician from the Mancos Conservation District will join farmers and ranchers at the Four States Ag Expo to teach kids about water and soil.

Patrick Clements, who has been helping the Conservation District with water efficiency and conservation projects since 2014, will be among the presenters in the Children’s Ag Learning Facility at the Expo, which offers a variety of hands-on educational demonstrations for kids.

Clements will use a trailer-mounted simulation from the Natural Resources Conservation Service to show how water flows through soil, and explain how erosion affects farmers and ranchers. First-grade classes from around Montezuma and Dolores counties will visit the CALF barn on Thursday and Friday, and on Saturday the demonstrations will be open to children of all ages.

The Montezuma School to Farm Project, one of the Conservation District’s programs, organizes CALF activities every year to help give kids an early introduction to agriculture. But Conservation District manager Gretchen Rank said last year was the first time the organization sent its own technician to the Expo.

Last year, he taught children about different types of soil, letting them get their hands dirty by comparing different textures and compositions.

According to a news release from the Conservation District during that Expo, the station was a hit with kids, who “loved the hands-on experience of playing in the soil.”

This year, Rank said, Clements will be using the NRCS simulator to teach kids about watersheds, which are important to her organization’s goals. In a watershed like the San Juan Basin, precipitation flows to the lowest point in the area, forming streams, rivers or lakes. On the way, it travels across the land and seeps into the soil, which is one of the primary ways crops get moisture. Conservation districts like the one based in Mancos seek to maximize the amount of water that gets to farmers and others in the watershed who need it.

Clements’ salary is paid through a grant from the Colorado State Conservation Board, which provides 75 percent of the District’s technician costs. As part of the grant’s requirements, he must spend a percentage of his time each year on outreach projects, including education. Rank said the Ag Expo is “perfect” for meeting those requirements, as well as fulfilling the Conservation District’s goals.

“One of our main missions is educating future generations,” she said. “When we can work with multiple partners and get kids in, and especially to let them touch and feel the things we’re trying to teach them ... it’s such an important part of their education.”

Students from Mancos, Dolores, Battle Rock, Lighthouse, Dove Creek, Children’s Kiva, Mesa, Pleasant View, Kemper and Manaugh schools will be taking field trips to the CALF barn on Thursday and Friday. On Saturday, there are no scheduled field trips, but the barn will be open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. for children of all ages.

Clements will be joined by several other presenters from around Montezuma County, including another Mancos-based nonprofit, the Medicine Horse Center. The High Desert Conservation District, FireWise of Southwest Colorado, Colorado State University extension offices, the Dolores Future Farmers of America chapter and other local organizations will offer activities ranging from making necklaces out of seeds to petting piglets.

Rank said the CALF barn usually gets between 400 and 500 young visitors during the Ag Expo, with more than half coming with their parents on Saturday rather than with a scheduled school trip. All CALF activities are included in the price of admission to the Expo.

Several events at the Expo, both for kids and adults, will focus on water conservation, drought mitigation and sustainable farming. According to the United States Drought Monitor, Montezuma County was experiencing “extreme drought” conditions as of March 6.

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