Education flows at Owyhee Dam as students visit
By SEAN ELLIS
OWYHEE DAM, Ore. -- An annual field day that uses hands-on activities to show hundreds of fifth-graders how important water is to farming, ranching and other activities is funded primarily by farmers in Eastern Oregon.
The two-day event at the Owyhee Dam was attended this year by more than 700 students from schools in Eastern Oregon and southwestern Idaho. At 25 different stations May 3-4, the students learned how important the watershed is in their daily lives.
The focus was on water's importance to agriculture and students received hands-on education in areas of crop science, livestock, rangeland ecology, water quality, irrigation, invasive species, wildlife management and recreation.
FFA members from several local chapters provided the students with hands-on learning experiences. For example, students tried to identify different crop seeds only by touch, observed rates of erosion by making it happen and learned about ordinary products derived from livestock through a competitive game.
"We try to help them get a better understanding of how important their watershed is ... to agriculture and other activities," said Michaelann Seiders, the event's outreach coordinator and a small farmer. "We found a lot of our fifth-graders aren't aware of these things."
The event, which was created by the Owyhee Watershed Council in 2002, started with about 100 students and has grown considerably. It now costs thousands of dollars to host each year, Seiders said, and most of the funding comes from farmers.
"The funding primarily comes from $100 donations from small local farmers that see the importance of it and help with small donations," she said.
More than 100 people donated $100 or more for this year's event and another 50 donated less than $100, says Vikki Price, a small farmer from Adrian, Ore., and one of the event's coordinators.
"The outpouring from the community has been tremendous," she said.
"These are tough economic times yet they still stepped up and supported that field day."
Price said the 100 FFA members who help run the event and accompany the students through each station are the key to making the field day a success.
Located in Eastern Oregon near the Idaho border, the Owyhee Dam has the capacity to hold 715,000 acre-feet of water and the facility provides water for 100,000 acres of farmland in Oregon and Idaho.
Even children from rural communities need to learn this information about water and it's better they hear it presented in a fair way, Price said.
"We feel it's important for kids to get a balanced idea of what goes on (with natural resources) and that we don't need to just lock them up," she said. "They can be managed for economic and environmental benefit. I think you need to tell your story to kids; they are where you are going to make an impact."