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Fourth-graders learn true meaning of agriculture at Thompson Park extravaganza

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JR, a 5-year-old Australian shepherd, scurried through a 20-foot-long tube, then leapt over a miniature high-jump bar Tuesday in front of an audience of fourth-graders at the Thompson Park pavilion in Watertown.

The demonstration by the intelligent canine trained to herd farm animals taught children that agriculture is about much more than farming, which is the goal of the agricultural extravaganza put on by Cornell Cooperative Extension of Jefferson County.

In addition, pupils from General Brown, Belleville Henderson, Alexandria and Thousand Islands central school districts learned how apples are pressed to make cider and maple syrup is tapped from trees; how to care for horses, sheep and poultry, and how worm compost bins are used to recycle kitchen scraps.

Karen E. Soule, a 4-H educator at the extension, taught children how to show dogs basic commands during her demonstration with the Australian shepherd.

“They learn about the safety of dogs, how to pet them, how to act when a dog behaves strangely, and basic obedience skills to teach their own dogs,” said Mrs. Soule, who has trained dogs for 19 years.

Students also learned how these dogs play an important role on farms by herding sheep and cattle. JR has been trained to herd sheep, she said, and has won awards in state competitions against other Australian shepherds. He also has experience managing a flock of about a dozen sheep at Mrs. Soule’s farm on County Route 72 in Henderson.

“He helped me guide the herd into the barn,” said Mrs. Soule, who managed the flock for two years on behalf of another farmer.

Tyler M. Hulec, 9, a fourth-grader who attends Megan J. Martin’s class at Alexandria Central School, enjoyed learning about how to care properly for a pony. He referred to the demonstration with Blitz, a 26-year-old pony gelding that made the trip from a Cape Vincent barn to be featured for students Tuesday.

“The horseshoes are nailed on the end of hooves” to avoid hurting horses’ feet, Tyler said.

Students also learned how a vacuum pump is used to draw sap from maple trees during a video presentation by Jamie N. Thibodeau, sugarmaker and ropes-course director at the Oswegatchie Educational Center in Croghan. The pump, linked to maple trees with a hose, helps generate a steady flow of sap as it travels down from the tree.

“Trees will push syrup out at 30 pounds per square inch, and the vacuum adds about 20 inches of pressure,” Mr. Thibodeau said. “Maple syrup is big here in the region, and we want to show kids natural syrup is better than common store brands.”

Mr. Thibodeau said the Oswegatchie Educational Center, owned by the New York FFA Leadership Training Foundation, conducts educational presentations for up to 400 students a year and hosts a summer camp.

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