A world different than their own: CSU Extension connects youth statewide through experiential learning at the National Western Stock Show

When Marlin Eisenach visited an elementary school in Morgan County in 2003 to present an educational program on Colorado Agriculture, he was surprised at the number of students who did not know where their food came from.

“A lot of the kids believed grocery stores grew all the food,” said Eisenach, a CSU Extension Livestock Agent in Morgan County.

Morgan County is a rural community and much of the local economy is based in agriculture and related industries, but many of the students have limited experience with or understanding of agriculture.

Eisenach took this observation as a call to action. First, he went to the National Western Stock Show (NWSS or Stock Show), where he also worked as a Livestock Superintendent, and proposed bringing school tours from Morgan County to visit the stock show and learn about Colorado agriculture. The National Western Stock Show, established in 1906 and held in Denver annually in January, is the premier livestock, rodeo and horse show in the nation, serving agricultural producers and consumers worldwide.

After securing a partnership with the NWSS, Eisenach turned to the local Colorado Cattlemen’s Association Chapter in Morgan County. To him, the opportunity was clear: educate the youth of Morgan County about Colorado agriculture, teach them where their food comes from and wrap up the entire experience with a visit to the National Western Stock Show to provide a hands-on, interactive learning experience that students would remember.

The Cattlemen’s Association was on board and the following year they launched the program, focusing on third graders in Morgan County. CSU Extension agents led presentations about Colorado agriculture in every third-grade class in the county. Afterward, Extension agents organized school trips, sponsored by the Cattleman’s Association, to the stock show in Denver to see the crops, livestock and other agricultural programs in person.

“Hands-on education is such a great way to teach youth,” said Eisenach.

Almost twenty years later, the Morgan County stock show school visits are still going strong, now sponsored by the Fort Morgan Young Farmers Youth Foundation.

“Our kids learn a lot,” said Eisenach. “The majority of youth have never been to the Stock Show before and over half of the kids have never even been to Denver. It is a great experience for them.”

CSU Extension brings learning opportunities to youth around the state

elementary school students at the national western stock show
CSU Extension organizes school visits to the Stock Show as part of creating year-round learning opportunities for youth in counties and across the state. Photo Credit: NWSS

Morgan County youth are not the only ones who benefit from experiential learning opportunities at the National Western Stock Show.

Every year, Colorado State University Extension 4-H Agents in Adams, Jefferson, Broomfield, Denver, Arapahoe, Douglas, Boulder and Weld counties partner with the Stock Show to provide thousands of school-aged children from the Denver metro region the opportunity to learn more about agriculture. Extension agents help ensure a safe and educational experience for kids from around the state as well as answer questions and support learning opportunities. During school hours on weekdays, students visit livestock pens, barns, commercial and commodity exhibits and CSU’s Ag Adventure through self-guided tours.

Barbie Garnett, Park County CSU Extension Director, has volunteered with NWSS school visits for over fifteen years.

“Extension is a proud, valuable partner in this program,” said Garnett. “We organize the school visits to the Stock Show as part of creating year-round learning opportunities for youth in counties and across the state.”

Shelby Rich, Education Manager with the NWSS, recognizes the value CSU Extension brings to the partnership, facilitating learning opportunities for thousands of students from across Colorado.

“We are so fortunate to lean on our friends at CSU Extension,” said Rich. “Visiting the stock show is a chance for kids to learn about our Western heritage and how agriculture touches everyone in some way, from the clothes on your back to the food you eat.”

A world different than their own

school children watch top hogs at a school visit at the NWSS.
Every year, school visits at the NWSS draw thousands of students from urban and rural communities, bringing youth from differing backgrounds together to learn. Photo Credit: NWSS

Alicia Needham, a Second Grade Teacher at King-Murphy Elementary school, worked with Garnett and CSU Extension to organize a trip for first and second-grade students.

“The Stock Show provides a local, hands-on and engaging experience for the children,” said Needham. “Students are able to make the connection between the importance of raising livestock as a means to provide income for a family and as a means to provide food for the consumer.”

For Michelle Cheer, a kindergarten teacher at Maple Grove Elementary School in Jefferson County, the visits serve as an engaging and educational experience for students who otherwise may not have the opportunity to learn about agriculture.

“I began bringing students to the Stock Show in 2005 when I worked at an at-risk school,” said Cheer. “The visits were great because these kids didn’t have any idea where food comes from and had never been close to farm animals.”

At her current school, Maple Grove Elementary, Cheer continues the tradition. “It’s great for students to see a world that is different than their own.”

Bridging divides, empowering future farmers

Youth participating in CSU's Ag Adventure at the NWSS.
CSU's Ag Adventure is just one of the many kid-friendly activities available at the National Western Stock Show. Photo Credit: NWSS

Every year the NWSS draws tens of thousands of participants from urban and rural communities in every corner of Colorado. School visits at the Stock Show bring youth from these differing backgrounds together to learn.

“We often talk about the urban and rural divide in our state,” said Rich. “NWSS is an opportunity to bring different communities together. At the end of the day, kids are learning about agriculture, about where their food comes from – and those messages are more important than ever no matter where they live.”

Students often walk away from the event excited and ready to keep learning.

“It’s a great feeling,” said Rich. “Whether it be empowering a future farmer or rancher, or watching students interact with live animals or learning something new, it’s impactful.”

Plan your visit

Learn more about school visit opportunities at the National Western Stock Show website. Download the Teachers’ Handbook, created by CSU Extension, to prepare for your school visit.

About CSU Extension | Office of Engagement and Extension

CSU Extension empowers Coloradans to address important and emerging community needs using dynamic, science-based educational resources. For over 100 years, CSU Extension has helped people in Colorado find the answers they need for a healthy home life, successful business and thriving community. We bring the University’s research-based resources to local communities across the state. Learn more at extension.colostate.edu

CSU Extension is housed within the Office of Engagement and Extension. Learn more at engagement.colostate.edu.