Indiana has this cool competition for high schools where the kids have to learn about and solve an environmental problem. Actually, it’s a lot more complicated than that, but the part that I’ve been asked to judge is the problem solving.
Each team consists of five high schoolers. To get to the state level, they have to place in the top three at a regional contest. That leaves eighteen teams at the state contest. They are given an environmental problem to solve and have about a month to work it out and prepare a presentation and written report to show the judges … that’s me.
The problem is different every year and is always quite interesting. This year it was how to start a beef pasture operation while being cognizant of environmental impacts. Beef production varies from year to year, and last year’s drought really dropped production, so it was thought that there would be a bunch of new operations brought into existence this year and it would be nice if the environmental impact were kept to a minimum.
The big plus for me was that I learned a lot about beef pasturing that I never knew before. For instance, a good thing to do for your pasture is to plant turnips. It enriches and breaks up the soil and provides a nutritional treat for the cows that lasts all winter long!
An awful lot of the teams consisted of FFA clubs, many of which treated this as an FFA contest rather than an environmental contest. One of the top-ranking teams focussed mostly on what kind of fence to put up! Another team decided to raise an “endangered species” of cow called a Red Poll, and thus fulfilling the environmental problem of species extinction. Post-contest research showed that Red Poll cattle aren’t even a rare breed. Oh well!
Another group focused on keeping wildlife OUT of the pasture, rather than enhancing it for wildlife!
On the other end of the spectrum were the teams that clearly understood the challenge and put together great presentations. Listening to these kids really gives me a good feeling about the future!!