TIFTON -- The mystery of a maze that suddenly appeared in a corn field in Irwin County recently has been solved. But, children and adults who continue to visit the tractor-shaped path cut into the stalks are still amazed at the exhibit.

Irwin County High School (ICHS) agriculture teacher Wesley Paulk said Tift County Extension Agent Keith Rucker and ICHS 11th grader Shane Moncus designed and cut the shape into the field. The field is part of the high school's Center of Agriculture Study of Excellence (C.A.S.E.) project. The department is using the maze as a teaching tool.

The entire C.A.S.E. project is an outdoor laboratory for education. Paulk said it isn't just children from Atlanta who need exposure to agriculture and the importance of the industry to the economy.

"We are seeing a whole generation right here who have never seen or been on a farm and don't know where food comes from," Paulk said.

Rucker programmed Moncus's tractor design into a Global Position System (GPS). The GPS tuned into a satellite and the satellite sent directions on where the corn should be cut to produce the design.

"Wesley was on the lawnmower," Rucker said.

The system uses signals to determine latitude and longitude and can measure a location to within three feet.

When nearly 100 pre-kindergarten children and chaperones recently visited the maze, they were also treated to visits through a farrowing house where baby pigs are kept. Farm manager Tommy Shrouder gave tours through cotton and peanut fields where children were able to pick cottonseeds from mature cotton bolls and discuss how those seeds would one day produce the fibers to make new t-shirts. Students were able to pull peanut vines from the ground and pick off the nuts.

"A lot of these kids who come through here think food comes from a grocery store or mama's kitchen," Paulk said. "These kids will be business leaders, decision-makers and legislators, so we need to expose them to it, at least so they can understand."

It's likely that not many of today's students will take a strict agricultural career path, but Paulk said a basic knowledge of the industry is an important part of education.

"They have to understand and speak our language," Paulk said. "I can't name one company or job here in Irwin County that agriculture doesn't affect."

The corn grown in the C.A.S.E. field is not wasted. High schoolers are learning how to grow corn and market products made from the grain.

"We are taking our white corn and grinding it at a grist mill here and making grits and cornmeal," Paulk said. "We are selling the grits and cornmeal locally."

The students have learned more than growing corn in the process.

"We start with the seed and we are packaging it for sale," Paulk said. "They see the product go from start to finish."

C.A.S.E. farm tours will be available for area pre-kindergarteners through fifth graders. Paulk said there were several days still available for booking group tours. Student admission is $5 per student with free admission to chaperones. Jeans or shorts and tennis shoes are suggested for tourists.

For more information or to book a tour, contact Betty Sue Stripling at the Irwin County Board of Education at 229-468-7485.

To contact reporter Angie Thompson, call 382-4321, ext. 208.

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