HERMISTON, Ore. — When Lauren Smith pulled out a collection of spiders at the Hermiston Agricultural Research and Extension Center July 17 she had an eager audience.

The children participating in the station’s first-ever Farmtastic event crowded closer to the Oregon State University graduate student, passing around the vials of specimens preserved in alcohol and commenting on the size of what was inside.

“Why are spiders beneficial?” she asked the group.

“Because they eat bugs!” a student piped up.

The lesson was part of a free day-long activity at HAREC for children interested in science and agriculture. Annette Teraberry, administrative assistant for the center, said the event was conceived and designed by the center’s graduate students as a way to introduce science to local youth.

The program was advertised through Hermiston’s Parks and Recreation department, and 20 spots were available on a first-come, first-served basis.

Sarah Light, a graduate student working on a dual master’s degree in soil science and plant pathology, said the group tried to come up with a curriculum that was a mixture of hands-on activities, games and informational lessons.

“The idea is to get kids excited about science in the context of agriculture,” Light said.

She said each of the program’s five graduate students have a different area of expertise, so the children were getting exposure to a wide range of elements of farming.

Before Smith’s lesson on beneficial bugs — which also included a demonstration on pollination using an armful of flowers and a collection of preserved bees — Light had been teaching the group about plant pathology.

“Plants can get sick, too,” she told the group, noting that plant diseases cost the United States about $8 billion annually.

Later in the day the group would learn about soil and creek ecosystems, take a tour of the experiment station and visit the pathology lab. The center’s staff hopes to make Farmtastic an annual event.

“It’s been going great,” Light said. “The kids seem really into it and we’re having a lot of fun.”

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