The sea of tri-fold poster boards was the same.
The handful of judges gazing thoughtfully at the boards and taking notes were the same.
The stapled reports on the tables beside each exhibit were the same.
In short, the setup in the Greenup County High School cafeteria Tuesday was no different from any other science fair in the land, except for one thing: each of the exhibits was based on an agricultural science issue.
The FFA agriscience fair drove home one central point, according to ag teacher Laura Murphy: “Agriculture is science. From the soil on up, whether you’re talking about plants or animals, it’s all science-based. All agriculturalists are scientists.”
That is why she insisted students validate their entries by using the scientific method — stating a hypothesis and then confirm it by testing.
Students also performed research, did experiments and wrote reports summing up their findings.
They could choose projects relating to animals, crops, the environment, food products, agricultural equipment and social systems — all crucial components of the agricultural world.
Sophomore Kayla Leadingham, for instance, worked with pigs to learn whether hand-feeding them marshmallows would be an effective training method.
Kasey Baldridge, also a sophomore, explored types of soil and their suitability for sustaining earthworms.
Each set up an experiment, then observed and analyzed their findings, Leadingham by checking daily for progress in attracting her pigs to the marshmallows and Baldridge by watching her worms to determine which soil type they crawled into.
Stormy Stamper, a junior, chose a social science approach to investigate the benefits of vegetarianism. She interviewed vegetarians and examined medical research on meatless diets.
Josh Sturgill, one of the judges and a computer science teacher at Greenup County, said the task was similar to other nonagriculture-based science fairs he has judged. “You are always looking for the same things, whether students follow the scientific method,” he said.
Science projects can have practical value, according to Emily Billups, a sophomore who studied the growth rate of goats. Billups, who raises Boer goats, compared the growth rates of children fed with cow’s milk, a synthetic milk substitute and their own mothers’ milk.
She found mother’s milk resulted in the fastest rate and the biggest goat, knowledge she said will help her with future animals.
The students learned something about themselves and their agricultural heritage as well. “People think of farmers as poor rednecks, but farms bring everything from the clothes we wear to the food we eat,” Baldridge said.
That may be the most important insight to come out of the fair, according to Murphy, especially for students who plan agriculture-based careers. “They should value agriculture. It’s not a career to be ashamed of. They have value. They are scientists.”
MIKE JAMES can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (606) 326-2652.