When Nathan Sparks see a fourth-grader come face to face with a cow for the first time, he smiles.
For the past 15 years, Sparks has overseen the Ag in the Classroom in Mitchell. The event is hosted each March and brings in fourth-grade students from Mitchell, Mount Vernon and Ethan to learn about agriculture.
"The fascination they see coming through and seeing the animals up close or a combine and equipment, it brings a whole different perspective to them about what agriculture is," Sparks said.
Sparks, who works as a loan production officer at First Dakota National Bank in Mitchell, coordinates the event each year with the help of his coworkers and area professionals. Together, the crew puts on a daylong learning experience for the students - which each year varies from 275 to 350 area children - at the Davison County Fairgrounds.
And for Sparks' dedication to the agriculture event, he was recently awarded the Chamber of Commerce Volunteer of the Year award. Sparks was chosen for his "demonstrated enthusiasm, dedication and leadership."
"I was absolutely surprised, and I had no idea I was even in the running for it," Sparks said about receiving the award in January during the recognition banquet for the Mitchell Area Chamber of Commerce, Mitchell Area Development Corporation and Mitchell Main Street and Beyond.
But Sparks, a native of Armour, is quick to say it's not a one-man show, adding that it requires a lot of effort from area volunteers and professionals to put together Ag in the Classroom.
"Volunteering your time, it takes a lot of support from home, and also from work. I credit my wife for sure for allowing me to volunteer, and the folks around here who help out."
The daylong event is split into two sessions. Each session sends students to area booths to learn about farm and electrical safety, various soils, dairy, beef, pork, sheep and how agriculture can be found in the home.
"Even being in Mitchell, a rural community, they tend to get a little too removed from it," Sparks said about the students. "This kind of brings them back into it."
Ag in the Classroom is typically held each year around national Ag Week. This year's Ag Week will be held March 18-24 with National Ag Day on March 20.
While the date for this year's Ag in the Classroom is still to be set, Sparks said teachers, parents and other interested individuals can expect the event to be held during this week.