Jan 182010
Authors: Madeline Novey

Sitting on a black, plastic folding chair, Pat Mertinek pulls tufts of fur from the back of a salt and pepper french angora rabbit splayed across her lap and feeds the fluff into a loom.

A man in a tall cowboy hat and shiny black boots asks Mertinek if she can spin the wool directly from the rabbit’s back, without breaking the connection.

She could, Mertinek says, but the wool wouldn’t be as good.

As her small feet rhythmically pump the loom’s pedal, her dexterous fingers spin and pull the fluff into almost foot-long strands of angora wool –– the softest legal fiber in the country, Mertinek says.

Kids and their parents, Saturday’s attendants of the 2010 National Western Stock Show, looked on, with child-like curiosity and with mouths slightly agape, at the foreign sight of someone crafting yarn ­­­­­by hand.

“Yarn doesn’t come from the store,” says Mertinek, a 1983 CSU graduate and member of a Boulder weaving guild, scratching the nameless rabbit she borrowed from a woman showing her animals at a nearby exhibit.

Americans don’t understand that many of the products they use everyday come from natural products developed by the agricultural industry, CSU students and farmers agreed.

“People are very disconnected from their food and fiber,” said Will Nelson, a junior agriculture education major and one of eight children born into an ag family.

For that reason, members of several CSU and national agricultural groups hosted the Ag Adventure At Children’s Ranchland, an interactive, educational display at the National Western Stock Show that attempted to “connect agriculture to the lives of urban students,” Nelson said.

With more than 108,000 jobs in Colorado related to agriculture and with the majority of products Americans consume each year –– Play-Doh and envelopes, eggs and hair mousse –– made from farm-grown materials, Ag Adventure volunteers said it’s about teaching people, especially young kids, about the vitality of agriculture.

“People as adults don’t understand … things don’t magically appear,” said Jenny Hendrickson, a junior animal science major and first-year member of CSU’s Ag Adventures group.

Hendrickson said while he was walking through the Ag Adventure exhibit, a man, with 20 years of experience in the paper industry, stopped, surprised, to find that wheat is sometimes sewn into envelopes to make them stronger.
“I didn’t have any clue what the paper was made of,” Hedrickson said the man told her.

As the daughter of a third-generation lettuce farmer, Hendrickson said that agriculture runs in her blood and that her 3-year-old daughter, whose first word was “moo,” will be the same.

“She knows milk comes from cows and cheese from milk,” Hendrickson said.

When asked if the stock show –– which in 2009 brought in more than 640,000 rodeo, live stock and general agriculture enthusiasts –– served the purpose of educating people in this fashion, as simple as it seems, Nelson said, “That’s what it’s about.”

“I hope that they (attendants) come away, by and large, with the knowledge of the time and hard work (that goes into agriculture).”

News Managing Editor Madeline Novey can be reached at news@collegian.com.

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