Creative kids honored for Tom Graham essay contest

Creative kids honored for Tom Graham essay contest
Dave Mast

West Holmes winners of the Tom Graham 5th Grade Farm Tour essay contest included overall winner Colton Garver, center, second-place Payson Dial, left, and third-place Lauren Steinbauer. The are joined by teachers Jennifer Hopkins, left, and Mary Smith.


Cows, dogs, rabbits and other barnyard animals were awarded top prizes at the annual Holmes Soil & Water Conservation District annual meeting at Carlisle Inn at Walnut Creek on Tuesday, Nov. 16, but those animals came from the imaginations of the students honored for their efforts in the annual Tom Graham 5th Grade Farm Tour essay contest.

Presenter John Lorson honored each of the top award-winning essays, reading excerpts from each as the students were awarded their plaques.

The farm tour was divided between east and west this year, with the East Holmes Schools visiting Ayrdell Farm near Trail while West Holmes students gathered at Velvet View Farm. Students were treated to some special sessions this year, and East Holmes included its sixth-grade students, who missed out on the tour last year due to COVID-19.

We had a few bonuses for the kids this year,” SWCD board member Jason Biltz said.

Students in the east got to see how maple syrup was made and toured Walnut Creek Planing, which is adjacent to Ayrdell Farm, while students in the west were treated to “a million-dollar view” and learned more about how Velvet View Farmstead Yogurt is made, a product the Schlauch family created a couple of years ago.

“These tours are a community event with many friends and family helping,” Biltz said. “There is no way our small staff could do this without the many people it took to make the event possible.”

Biltz said the past two years have been difficult on both teachers and students, and the teachers and school staff should be commended for their hard work.

Lorson, the SWCD conservation specialist who organizes the essay contest and judges the entries along with Shasta Mast, RoseAnne Rinfret and Dara Stitzlein, said they encouraged kids to be very creative in telling their story about what they experienced on the tour. He said the judges have had a treat reading the inspiring and often-time humorous essays.

“We changed it up to become a creative nonfiction essay,” Lorson said. “That means they could employ the things they saw at the farm into a creative story, and it’s been a treat to read them.”

The winners of the West Holmes fifth-grade essay contest from first to third included Colton Garver, Killbuck, student of Mary Smith; Payson Dial, Lakeville, student of Jennifer Hopkins; and Lauren Steinbauer, Lakeville, student of Jennifer Hopkins.

The winners of the East Holmes fifth-grade essay contest from first to third included Caleb Troyer, Walnut Creek, student of Liz Sommers; Elaya Barkley, Winesburg, student of Rachel Miller; and Grace Shetler, Chestnut Ridge, student of Heidi Olinger.

The winners of the East Holmes sixth-grade essay contest from first to third included Addisyn Mast, Walnut Creek, student of Barb Brown; James Hershberger, Walnut Creek, student of Barb Brown; and Ethan Schlabach, Chestnut Ridge, student of Jennifer Mengel.

Lorson shared some excerpts from the winning essays, talking about what drew the judging team to choose that essay as an award winner.

Steinbauer wrote her story from the perspective of a cow, touching on the aspect of farm safety and a cow’s eyesight. Dial chose to explore the cow’s perspective, choosing to follow the shenanigans of a group of wild animals called “kids” who came to her farm in big yellow tubes. Garver wrote about his essay through the eyes of a farm cat, Ozzie, who met with friends along his way in watching the students.

“A fantastic, creative essay — we really loved it,” Lorson said of Garver’s essay.

Shetler put herself in the role of a young farm girl who had to wake up every morning to do her chores. Lorson said her sensible approach to wildlife was fascinating. Barkley chose to write about a crayfish, an essay that took the crayfish from infant to adulthood. She explored the importance of water quality.

“It was one of the most unique perspectives I’ve seen in this contest,” Lorson said.

Troyer’s winning effort left the reader in the dark as to what animal he was, and it turned out to be a mole exploring Walnut Creek Planing. Because moles can’t see, he used his other senses to figure out everything the company produces.

Schlabach told the story from a pair of minnows who argued over whether pools or ripples of water are the best. He focused on water quality and conservation practices. Hershberger described the tour through the eyes of a farm dog, talking about the importance of quality soil. Mast wrote about a curious bunny, the youngest in a family of rabbits, and covered each station while discussing many of the details that were shared throughout the day.

“I could write a brochure from this essay,” Lorson said of Mast’s effort. “Congratulations to all of the students. We hope you learned a great deal about life on the farm and conservation. A lot of these kids don’t have any experience on a farm, so this is a really great lesson.”

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