By Robbie Ward
TUPELO – Nearly 200 elementary school students from Amory visited with potbelly pigs and friendly llamas, wandered through a corn maze and gathered eggs at the Lee County Agri-Center on Thursday.
Kicking off a fall season of field trips at the county facility looking to attract more visitors, agri-center director Torrey Mitchell watched the kids smiling around him and welcomed the activity.
Hired eight months ago to bring life into a struggling county facility, Mitchell and Kristi Harris, an agri-tourism consultant from south Mississippi, created an impressive opening day for visitors, young and young at heart.
Before visiting the agri-center, Kristy Cornelius and other third- grade teachers at East Amory Elementary School had just finished teaching lessons to their students related to the classic children’s book, “Charlotte’s Web,” about a young pig and other animals.
“We’re tying it together with this trip,” Cornelius said. “We didn’t plan it that way, but it just worked out.”
Mitchell has booked close to 20 schools from 17 counties to visit the agri-center for the themed exhibit, “So God Made a Farmer,” a play off of the Paul Harvey speech. While the student field trips bring revenue to the agri-center, it also helps introduce many kids disconnected from agriculture that it produces food they eat, clothes they wear and contributes to other parts of their lives.
“They all seem to be out having a good time,” Mitchell said, standing a few feet from kids at a cow- milking simulator. “I hope the entire community can enjoy this.”
Layken Gunn, 8, a third-grader at East Amory Elementary School, said her grandfather grows carrots and tomatoes in his backyard. Standing in line to enter the corn maze created for the exhibit, Layken said she enjoyed her day out of the classroom.
“Farm life is a kind of a fun experience,” she said.
Lee County Supervisor Phil Morgan wandered through the groups of students watching their reactions. He said for the first time in years he feels good about the center’s future as a community facility.
“Those kids didn’t realize they were being educated because they were having so much fun,” he said.