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Farm Day vital tool to teach agriculture

The largest child educational program of its kind in the nation is coming around next week in Salinas. But don’t tell the kids that; they’ll be having too much fun at Farm Day Salinas to think of it as school.

Not only is Farm Day educational, it provides more than 6,000 third-graders in Monterey County a hands-on chance to learn about the many components of agribusiness, said Candi Depauw, Farm Day coordinator.

“In the third grade the kids are open to learning everything; they just soak up information,” Depauw said. “Everything excites them and they are so responsive they are glued to hearing about even seed science, and they love the equipment and animals.

There are three Farm Days during the year – one in Salinas, one in Monterey and the South County Farm Day in King City. By far the Salinas event is the largest, with an estimated 3,300 kids from 125 classes converging on 1069 Grower’s St. on Feb. 5 to stare in awe at the massive machinery, giggle over ducks, chickens, sheep and cattle, and most of all, know where that night’s dinner came from.

Norm Groot, executive director of the Monterey County Farm Bureau and a regular volunteer at the event, said Farm Day is key to teaching children when they are young about what it takes to put a meal on the table.

“We probably should do a whole lot more than we are doing, and have them more inclusive,” Groot said. “It’s important to reach them at a young age so they can learn their milk does not come from supermarkets and beef doesn’t come from McDonald’s.”

Now in its 23rd year, Farm Day runs two hours and 15 minutes and is comprised of five, 10-minute sessions addressing seed science, a “plant doctor,” picking healthy choices, crops and production – such as irrigation and fertilizer applications. Every class is also assigned one animal, with a 20-minute presentation about beef cattle, dairy or poultry.

Carla Wright, a retired Salinas teacher, has been taking her third-graders to Farm Day for years and is now a volunteer. Many of her students were children of farmworkers, but did not have any idea what happened to the produce after it was picked.

“It gives children in our county the opportunity to learn what is happening in their own back yards,” Wright said. “In Salinas and south county we have parents who are farmworkers, but there is more to agriculture than their parents working in the fields. There’s science and nutrition and finance and production – it’s exposing them where their food and fiber comes from, like the wool in their clothes.”

Despite Salinas being surrounded by farming operations, the majority of kids have never set foot on a farm and have no idea where their food comes from, besides aisles in grocery stories, Depauw said.

“I’ve been associated with agriculture for 30-plus years. It is surprising how many kids have never been exposed to a farm, and how the food gets to their tables,” she said. “When they see food it is on the shelves at the grocery store or it’s already prepared or frozen.”

It’s often quoted that agriculture in Monterey County is a $4 billion industry. But that does not take into account all the support services required to run a farming operation, services children need to understand as well. Factoring in things like fertilizer sales, banking, equipment sales and services, the agribusiness economy in the county is estimated at $8 billion.

“This goes beyond farms and ranchers to include all ancillary businesses, which this kind of large scale community event brings together people from many aspects of our community,” Groot said.

The nonprofit Monterey County Ag Education Inc. puts on the Farm Day Experience with the help of 700 volunteers from agriculture and the community. All costs associated with The Farm Day Experience are paid for by the nonprofit, including bus transportation and teacher training. By funding the entire program, no class, school or district in Monterey County is left out because of budget concerns, Depauw said.

Dennis L. Taylor covers agriculture for TheCalifornian.com. Follow him on Twitter @taylor_salnews.

Volunteers needed

With a 125 classes and 3,300 students, volunteers are sorely needed in many different positions. Signing up is easy. Go to www.montereycountyageducation.org and fill out a quick questionnaire. Further questions can be directed to Candi Depauw at (831) 905-3669.

Farm Day is from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 5 at 1069 Grower’s St.

Source: The Californian

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