By CRAIG REED
For the Capital Press
KLAMATH FALLS, Ore — “What do an egg, a baseball and a tube of lipstick have in common.”
That was the question Rhonda Swanson asked an audience of mostly grade school kids but also some adults during her “Thank a Farmer” magic show on Feb. 21 at the 33rd annual Farm Expo. Before juggling the three products, Swanson told the listeners all three items came from agriculture.
The kids knew, of course, that the egg came from a chicken, but Swanson then explained to them that the white covering on the major league baseball she was holding came from cowhide and that the lipstick consisted of beeswax and olive oil and numerous other animal and plant ingredients.
Swanson gave two 30-minute presentations at the Farm Expo and also gave shorter presentations at the dairy booth as fourth-grade students circulated through 18 agricultural themed booths at the event.
The two-day expo attracted about 850 students from Klamath, Lake and Modoc counties.
Swanson, 51, came up with the “Thank a Farmer” program about 10 years ago after talking to a Wisconsin dairy farm family and hearing the children talk about being bullied at school because of their lifestyle.
“When city kids move to the rural areas, they don’t understand the lifestyle of those already living there,” said Swanson, whose family has farmed in Iowa for six generations. “I took a look at what was out there for kids to learn about the importance of farming and I didn’t see much of any outreach to the consumers.
“I asked, ‘How can we get the importance of farmers to our communities?” she said. “The best way was through the kids.”
Swanson said at that time animal activists and their organizations and the anti-genetically modified organisms groups were being vocal in public about their beliefs. She said there was no program to educate the public about agriculture.
So Swanson, who was already in the entertainment business with her mother Joyce as the Wacky Women of the Wild West, developed the “Thank a Farmer” magic show. She figured that children are attracted to magic and including two or three tricks in a presentation would help keep their attention as she talked about the importance of agriculture.
She also noted that one of the first things taught to children is to say “Thank you” after being given something.
Swanson said she believes kids today begin to develop prejudices in elementary school so she thinks it is important to get the message out about respecting agriculture to those youngsters.
“The idea behind ‘Thank a Farmer’ is to raise their realization through thanking a farmer, that something is being done for them,” explained Swanson, who is now a Las Vegas-area resident.
Swanson recently spent 24 days at the Fort Worth Livestock Show and Rodeo, giving her presentation to a total of 20,000 pre-school to fourth-grade kids.
“I know how hard farming is from my own family’s background,” she said. “To have people outside of the industry criticize it and to criticize the people who are farming makes me mad. I know it is their own ignorance because they are so far removed from the process. I created something that would educate them, starting at a young age.
“The people in agriculture are a special people,” she continued. “They are willing to take those risks when other people aren’t, they are willing to put in 24-hour days when other people aren’t, they miss vacations when other people don’t, they miss special occasions when other people don’t. Farmers are a committed group who are deserving of a thank you every now and then.
“As more kids live in cities and towns, they don’t have contact with a farmer,” she added. “The goal of this magic show is to educate and to explain to kids why they should thank a farmer.”