Science lessons learned on farming field trip

Montoursville Area High School science teacher Ted Barbour instructs students in the classroom, but on Wednesday he and others taught real-world principles in the field at his Lycoming Township cattle farm.

About 20 ninth-grade honors biology students toured Barbour’s farm, which recently was recognized as the Lycoming Conservation District’s Cooperator of the Year.

The students learned about Barbour’s efforts to prevent stream contamination from farm runoff by using natural buffers and how he uses rotational grazing and feeding methods.

Part of the goal was to show students that farming isn’t just about digging in dirt and having a few animals around.

Students took water samples from a small stream that flows next to a barn, performed soil tests and identified varieties of trees that have been planted to help absorb animal nutrients.

“Farmers are definitely scientists in a sense,” said Richard Burnett, of the Lycoming County Farm Service Agency, who assisted with the day’s program.

They also saw how Barbour’s efforts – along with those of the county Conservation District and

Farm Service Agency – go a long way to better the environment.

Barbour has solar panels installed on his barn that harnesses three-fourths of the overall electricity needs of the farm and his house.

The farmer recalled years ago when his cattle regularly grazed near the barn and stream.

“It was a mudhole. We called it the swamp,” Barbour said.

Now with a natural buffer to control contamination, the stream runs clear and even is home to fish, said Michael Sherman, executive director of the county Farm Service Agency.

“It’s amazing how much the cows can affect the stream ecology,” he said.

Although Barbour was playing host at his farm, which is more than 100 acres, the students were led by their teacher Steven Tressler, who said the day was about getting the kids out of the classroom to see the practical applications of science.

Too many times, Tressler said, students are trained to perform to educational standards and forget that what they learn is useful outside school.

“We lose sight that science is an activity and not a test,” he said.

Near the end of their visit, students got a close up look at a calf born just a few weeks ago. Barbour explained that his cattle are grass fed, as opposed to grain fed.

“This is like a salad bar diet,” he said, as he held up a handful of rye, fescue, clover and alfalfa.

Tressler said that it is practices like Barbours that help make a positive difference in the environment.

“It starts here,” Tressler said.

Student Keith Batkowski said he took something away from the farm tour and activities.

“I think it should be something every school should be doing,” he said. “I didn’t know there was so much responsibility in farming.”