Dec. 2 2014 08:00 AM

For students in Louisville, Ky., the North American International Livestock Exposition provides a unique opportunity for a lesson in agriculture.

The North American International Livestock Exposition (NAILE) in Louisville, Ky., is well-known for its dairy cattle and livestock shows, the rodeo, and a whole trade show hall filled with show supplies, cowboy boots, sparkly belts and more. What few people may realize is that the expo also serves as an excellent agricultural education venue for students every year through its school tours program.

Since 1978, when the school tours began, thousands of students in the Louisville area have come to NAILE to learn more about where their food comes from. By the conclusion of this year's expo, more than 1,700 students from 40 local schools had participated in the program in 2014.

"Most students in the Louisville area have little exposure to agriculture," said Susan Simmons, Exposition School Tour Administrator. To help teachers prepare students, NAILE staff provides enrichment materials on their website to be used prior to the tour.

On the tour days, FFA members from the Henry and Spencer County FFA chapters serve as guides for each group. Students are first led through the barns so they can see the animals and behind the scenes of the show.

Groups then visit educational stations that are run by members of the Louisville Ag Club. These volunteers spend time teaching the children about the animals they saw in the barns. After that, teachers and students have time to explore on their own in the Children's Barnyard, the Farmer for a Day area and the Art of Wool showcase.

With the help of volunteers and various organizations, the NAILE school tours offer a one-of-a-kind, hands-on agricultural learning experience all under one roof. Schools are only charged a minimal price for admission, and many teachers bring their classes back year after year, Simmons said. More details can be found at
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The author is an associate editor and covers animal health, dairy housing and equipment, and nutrient management. She grew up on a dairy farm near Plymouth, Wis., and previously served as a University of Wisconsin agricultural extension agent. She received a master's degree from North Carolina State University and a bachelor's from University of Wisconsin-Madison.