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November 14, 2005

Columbus County second graders are nuts about pecans

Kids watch pecan demonstration
Pecan grower Rossie Ward demonstrates a neat way to pick up pecans without bending over. (Daniel Kim photos)

Horticulture Specialist Mike Parker held the attention of Columbus County second graders as he explained how pecans are grown and harvested. But for some of the students, it wasn’t so much what he said as how he said it.

“PEE-cans!” they shouted, correcting Parker’s pronunciation of “pi-KAHNS.” Parker, who’s not from around here, also threw them a curve by pronouncing “roots” as “rutts.”

In spite of those few slips of the tongue, the third annual pecan education event for second graders in Columbus County was a big hit. The county is the state’s leading pecan producer (that’s PEE-can), and many students reported having a tree in their yards.

Many counties host education events that focus on agriculture. What makes this one unusual is its focus on one commodity that is important to the local economy. Partners in the effort include North Carolina Cooperative Extension campus and county faculty, the N.C. Pecan Growers Association, N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services and the N.C. Museum of Forestry in Whiteville, a satellite of Raleigh’s N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences.

Parker says the event gives the children an appreciation for agriculture in general and what it takes to grow pecans. “It’s part of their history, part of their heritage,” he says.

The two-day event, held at the Museum of Forestry, involves 1,100 second graders. Over two days, more than 50 classes attended the event. Classes rotate through five educational stations related to pecans. This year, the Museum of Natural Sciences provided a sixth education station from its popular fall “Bugfest” event.

Mike Parker talks pecans
N.C. State Horticulture Specialist Mike Parker tells a class about the pests that can invade pecans. Kids teased Parker about his pronunciation of 'pi-KAHNS.'

Parker and Extension Associate Allan Thornton, based in Sampson County, conducted a 30-minute overview of pecan production. Betty Thompson and Carolyn McCain, Columbus County family and consumer sciences agents, used pecans to talk with students about healthy snacks versus unhealthy, or “sometimes” snacks. Nuts, like pecans, can be a part of a healthy snack, Thompson said.

Thompson showed students how to make their own healthy snack at home with nuts, cereal, crackers and dried fruit. The Pecan Growers’ even provided funds so each student could taste a sample of a snack prepared with those ingredients.

Betty Ezzell of the Pecan Growers Association provided additional information on uses for pecan shells in filtration and crafts. She also described how wood from pecan trees is used for making furniture and crafts. She showed them a variety of small nutcrackers used to crack pecans at home.

Students also learned how pecans are cracked and shelled by commercial processors. At one of two outside stations, Columbus County pecan grower and processor Rossie Ward, demonstrated a high-speed machine that cracks and shells pecans one at a time. Ward processes 15,000 pounds of pecans for local growers. His business also sells a honey-roasted pecan, popular in retail outlets.

Don Ezzell, executive director of the Pecan Growers Association, demonstrated several tools for harvesting pecans without bending over, including a wire box on a pole that collects pecans as you press down on them. At Ezzell’s station, students also saw how a mechanical tree shaker clamps onto a tree and vibrates mature nuts right off the branches. Those that are not ready to fall will hang on a little longer, he said.

Bill Bunn of Bailey, president of the N.C. Pecan Growers Association, says that Columbus County growers produce about 100,000 pounds of pecans each year, more than any other county in the state. The popular education event falls two days before Whiteville’s Pecan Festival, held downtown.

Museum Director Harry Warren commented on how nice the weather has been for the event each year. “It’s clear that God’s favorite nut is a pecan,” he said.

-N. Hampton

Posted by Natalie at November 14, 2005 02:32 PM