Wow! Milk comes from cows?
Kids learn about their food at Chico State’s Ag Day
Ten little pairs of eyes watched in awe as a border collie silently circled a trio of sheep, moving them from one side of a pen to the other at the sound of a whistle from its nearby handler.
It was a bright, summery morning in March, and the children were visiting the Chico State University Farm to learn where their food comes from, at an annual event known as Ag Day.
Big yellow buses filled the dusty parking lot. A week-old calf welcomed its wide-eyed visitors with a low “moo” as the children walked up to the farm pavilion. Inside, more than 900 kindergarteners and first-graders from around Chico rotated through stations that allowed them to experience a snippet of farm life.
The event was organized by students, professors and outside agricultural organizations. Activities ranged from planting apple seedlings to learning to lasso—a crowd favorite. The kids glued cotton on paper to make fluffy sheep to hang on their refrigerators and learned that chocolate milk doesn’t come from brown cows.
“They are all taking home at least one piece of new information,” said Sierra View kindergarten teacher Carol Stein, who was attending Ag Day for the first time.
Stein talked briefly with her students about farming before the trip and was excited about bringing the agricultural information provided at the event back to her classroom.
Her group, color coordinated in red T-shirts, worked diligently at one station to add facts about insects to caterpillar cut-outs after examining a collection of bugs in Petri dishes.
Senior Chico State student Holly Sisco had helped catch those bugs earlier in the week—not an easy task—and led the caterpillar-making activity inside a classroom at the farm. It was her fourth Ag Day.
“Kids love it. Not only do they get a day off from school, but they also get to learn stuff. … It is like education in disguise,” the peppy 21-year-old said as she distributed markers for the children to decorate their caterpillars.
Sisco believes it is important for children to be exposed to agriculture at a young age. She grew up in a mountainous area near Summerville, in Trinity County, where there weren’t many farms, and realized her love for agriculture only when she got to high school and enrolled in Future Farmers of America.
“It would have been nice to be introduced to ag earlier on,” said Sisco, who now plans to become a high-school agriculture-education instructor.
Sam Starr, a member of the group Butte County Cattlewomen, also believes that people of all ages need to learn about agriculture. Her family has been ranching for more than 100 years near Oroville.
“It is amazing how many kids don’t know where their food comes from,” she said, adding that she wished Ag Day could be held on the main Chico State campus in order to teach the college students, too.
Starr worked at the Cattlewomen’s booth during Ag Day, passing out stickers to the students and answering their numerous questions. Her organization is involved in a variety of other outreach activities that teach children everything from the parts of a saddle to basic food safety.
“It’s really our only way to get our side of the story out there,” she said.
It is difficult to defend agricultural practices to people who don’t know about them, she explained, noting the loss of grazing land for ranchers that has led to brush growth and the risk of fire in the area, such as last summer’s destructive flames.
She thinks there needs to be an increase in education programs relating to all areas of agriculture, not just beef production. Although California is the top-producing ag state in the nation, farms have been disappearing as cities continue to expand.
“There’s only so much farm ground,” she said with a frown. “You can’t take mountains and turn them into farms.”
In order to combat this problem, events such as Ag Day present information about agriculture to young people in an easy-to-understand way. While the kids appeared to be busy digging in the dirt and racing each other to see who could milk a mock cow the fastest, they unwittingly gained important insight about the value of farms.
After a thrilling but exhausting few hours, the children boarded their bus with a black-and-white “California Milk” goodie bag stuffed with their day’s work—and a few stories to bring home.