WILLMAR - It was a muddy day to be on a farm Thursday, but that was just fine with the group of 18 students from Cardinal Kids Preschool who tromped through the immense - and very muddy - tire tracks on Kyle Knott's farm and craned their necks to look up at the tall grain bin full of corn on the rural Raymond farm.

Thankfully, most of the kids were wearing mud boots.

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After petting the farm cat, the 4-year-old students filled baggies with corn, soybeans and wheat that Knott grows on his farm and climbed into a couple of his John Deere tractors.

The experience was part of a tour to three very different farms - one where saltwater shrimp are raised, another where corn, soybeans, wheat and sugar beets are raised and another where thousands of dairy cows are milked.

"I'm hoping they learn to appreciate the outdoors and what hard work truly is out on a farm and how it's more than just playing with animals and driving a tractor," said Kayla Anderson, lead teacher for the class.

Anderson said she hopes the kids take some of their stories home to tell their parents.

The excursion was organized by Melanie Dickman, from the Natural Resources Conservation Service and Kandiyohi County Farm Bureau.

The goal was to expose younger kids to farms to help them learn where food comes from, said Dickman, who also has a young daughter in the class.

Besides visiting a grain farm, the kids went to Simply Shrimp in rural Blomkest, where owner Paul Damhof talked about how the tiny shrimp are cared for in the 17 different tanks of water that are housed in a converted dairy barn.

Even though the water looks red, Damhof told the kids that the balance of nutrients and warm temperatures are carefully monitored to make sure the shrimp grow.

"It's healthy, happy water," Damhof told the kids. "We've got a bit of the ocean right here in Minnesota."

Damhof used a net to scoop up a shrimp to show the kids, who squealed when the shrimp kept jumping out of Damhof's hands.

"The kids have been very excited," Dickman said.

"We've tried to keep it hands-on, so we got to see some shrimp and see how they grow in the water and they got to climb in some tractors and see a semi and grain bin," she said.

The final stop was at Louriston Dairy, part of the Riverview Dairy farms, near Murdock.

Dickman said it's important that everyone - not just kids - learn about agriculture.

"A lot of people don't understand where food comes from and how important that is to the economy and our livelihoods," she said.