Ag Ed Showcase a labour of love

Volunteer Ken Isbister (standing, left) gives a lecture to students from Meath Park School, with some help from Blaze the Belgian draft horse. -- Jason Kerr/Daily Herald

For two straight days, starting at 9:30 a.m. and ending at 2:30 p.m., Ken Isbister will deliver the same lecture on the same topic to a new group of students about every 12 minutes.

He’ll get time off for lunch, and a few breaks during the day, but his voice will still get sore as he talks. His exhibit partner, a 2,200 pound Belgian draft horse named Blaze, will stand idly nearby munching on straw or sniffing the gaggle of small hands that reach out to stroke his nose. Isbister is in his element, and he wouldn’t have it any other way.

“You’ve got to have a starting point and an ending point,” he explains after the last class has headed home for the day. “You try to keep it the same for them all. It’s easier for you because then you’re not thinking about what you’ve said or what you haven’t said.”

Isbister isn’t the only one involved in this endeavor. He’s just one of several farmers, producers, researchers and experts who’ve devoted their time to teaching local elementary school students as part of the annual Ag Ed Showcase at the Prince Albert Exhibition grounds.

His specialty is horses, which he began raising with his parents back in the early ‘60s. Even though Blaze isn’t his, Isbister has still agreed to come out explain the basics. Outside the small corral, curious students shift their attention between the enormous horse and a table full of harnesses and grooming tools that were once common in every farmyard across Saskatchewan.

“As the generations go by, draft horse people become less and less and less,” Isbister says. “A lot of kids do not realize that this was the main way that farming took place in Canada…. There were no tractors. Everything was done with a horse. It’s nice to let (the students) know, and maybe I can share some knowledge.”

Students from Meath Park School get acquainted with Blaze the Belgian draft horse during day two of the 2019 Ag Ed Showcase at the Prince Albert Exhibition grounds. — Jason Kerr/Daily Herald

Volunteers and sponsors are the engines that drive this two-day event.  Ag Ed director Katie Wilson says she’d love to turn this into a three-day showcase, which would allow more students to attend. The main thing keeping it from happening is the strain in puts on volunteers like Isbister.

“After two days, some of them are done,” says Wilson, who’s had a busy two-days herself. “It’s long days and it gets loud. I think they have no voice left by the end.”

The extension probably won’t happen soon, but Wilson says the demand is definitely there. This year, roughly 750 students from more than 20 schools will take part, with organizers still having to turn a few away.

A three-day event would not only mean more students, it would also allow for more producers and additional animals, like sheep, which were not featured at this year’s show.

Although it can be exhausting, Wilson says it’s worth it to give students a hands-on learning experience they otherwise might not have.

“That is the goal, to get kids to be able to starting thinking, ‘your milk doesn’t come from the grocery store. Your butter doesn’t come from the grocery store.’ You buy it there, but it’s produced on farms by producers who do it because they love what they do.”