MERRIFIELD, N.D. - "How many of you like black bean soup?," Bob Drees asked the group of 16 elementary school pupils. Two raised their hands.
"Well, we raise black beans here on our farm," the Merrifield, N.D., farmer told the visiting fourth-grade class from nearby Thompson Public School.
Drees and his family farm hosted fourth-graders Wednesday, March, from Thompson and Grand Forks. It's the fourth year he's brought school kids to his farm to help them learn more about modern agriculture.
"When they go to the grocery store with their parents, I want them to be able to point (to a food product) and say, 'I know a farmer who grows that,'" he said.
Drees and his family raise corn, wheat, soybeans, dry edible beans and sugarbeets. His presentation to the school kids included each of those crops in both processed, as-found-in-the-store form and raw harvested form. For example, he showed them bags of processed sugar and a large sugar beet harvested on his farm in fall 2016.
Merrifield, Thompson and Grand Forks are in the Red River Valley of eastern North Dakota and western Minnesota. The area features fertile farmland, and agriculture is a dominant part of the area's economy.
Even so, most of the children who visited the Drees' farm have few or no personal ties with agriculture, increasing the importance of making a connection to farmers and the crops they raise, Drees said.
North Dakota's fourth-grade classes include a section on agriculture in the state, information that a visit to an actual farm reinforces, he said.
The presentation also allowed the kids to inspect, and sit in the cabs of, three tractors used on the Drees' farm.
William Welke and Taylor Johnson, both 10-year-old Thompson fourth-graders, said they enjoyed looking at the tractors and learning more about the crops.
"It was fun," Johnson said.
"Some of it I knew, but some I didn't," Welke said.
Matt Chandler, a Thompson teacher, said his pupils "are curious. They want to learn more, and this gives them a chance to it."
Drees said farmers need to continue to help young people learn about modern ag.
"Maybe their grandparents farmed. Maybe their parents grew up on a farm. But they (most school kids) don't. Every generation is getting more removed from the farm," he said.