Farm Bureau’s 2011 Ag Days Brings the Farm to 5,000 City Kids
Story By Tim Tesconi
Photographs by Lisa Bauer, Sharon Beretta, Jackie Crawford, Brenda Hawkes, Peggy McCorvey & Katie Fonsen Young
The baby chicks, duckling and goslings from Western Farm Center were among the farm babies garnering the attention of the more than 5,000 kids who swarmed the Sonoma County Fairgrounds for Farm Bureau’s Ag Days, an annual spring event that brings the farm to the city.
“Nothing says spring and farm life like baby chicks,” said Larry Bertolini, 84, coowner of Western Farm Center, which has been bringing chicks and duckling to Ag Days since it started 31 years ago. Ag Days celebrates the county’s thriving agricultural industry and rich farming heritage.
“It’s important for all of us in agriculture to educate young people about farm life and what it takes to grow the food that we all eat as consumers,” said Bertolini.
Ag Days was held under sunny skies following a week of unrelenting storms that dumped more than five inches of rain on some parts of Sonoma County. The beautiful weather combined with displays of baby farm animals was an ode to spring that celebrates the rebirth and renewal that occurs this time of year on Sonoma County farms.
There were more than 5,000 school children, 1,200 parents and 300 teachers attending this year’s Ag Days, held March 29 and 30 at the fairgrounds, with activities and livestock exhibits centered in the Lyttle Cow Palace. In addition to the chicks and ducklings, the children could cuddle miniature cows and hold a squealing two-day old piglet. The children could run through a hay maze, stare down a Bantam chicken and ogle the giant Belgian draft horses brought from Bodega by rancher Pat Prather.
“The great thing about Ag Days for kids is that it encourages them to touch and feel the animals,” said Ray Crawford, whose family brings their pigs to Ag Days. For many of the urban kids, it’s the first time to actually see a live pig. That’s an amazing experience.
“Ag Days is such a great way for kids to experience the agriculture that is so important to the economy and way-of-life in Sonoma County,” said Marci Cook, a teacher at Mattie Washburn Elementary School in Windsor. “Most kids live in suburbs and don’t know about agriculture. This event gives the foundation to begin the educational journey to understand where their food comes from. At Ag Days they not only get the chance to see agriculture but to smell and hear it too, providing a powerful educational experience.”
Camber Clifton, a parent from Apple Blossom Elementary School has attended Ag Days for 3 years as a chaperone. She looks forward to the event year after year and enjoys the time with the students on the school field trip. “I really like the variety of activities, foods, and gift bags for the kids, parents, and teachers. I think this event is very beneficial to the kids by teaching them where their food comes from and how we get food from farm to plate.”
Carla Peterson, a teacher at Pacific Christian Academy, said the Ag Days tour and the Ag Days Awards Dinner were fabulous experiences for her students, particularly fifth grader Zoe Maddox who won the grand prize in the essay contest.
“One of my colleagues noted that she had never seen Zoe smile so much. Winning the grand prize award was very special for her parents,” said Peterson.
“It’s interesting every year to watch the students of my class and see what interests them. This year it was animals. We looked at every animal and saw most of the animal shows. The sheep dog and sheep shearing was the favorite, followed by horses, pigs, sheep, goats, rabbits and chickens. Being able to touch the animals was a huge draw and the farmers were very kind and patient, answering questions they had probably answered all day long,” said Peterson. “We spent all day at the event and could have spent more. I can’t believe how the event has grown over the years. We weren’t able to see it all! Our delight in the event was summed up by one of my students when she asked, “Can we come back tomorrow?”
In addition to the exhibits and demonstrations the kids were able to taste the best of Sonoma County. Kids munched on Pink Lady apples and sampled cheese and milk produced by Sonoma County cows and organic apple juice from Manzana Apple Products in Sebastopol.
“Ag Days is a unique opportunity where we can educate children, parents and teachers all together about the importance of agriculture to their lives and to the community,” said Lex McCorvey, executive director of Sonoma County Farm Bureau.
Ag Days encourages kids to see, smell and touch agriculture, whether it’s squeezing wool or cuddling a piglet. The only admonition for kids is “please touch the animals.”
“It’s just so great to watch the kids touching calves, climbing hay bales and getting on tractors without someone screaming at them to get off or don’t touch. We encourage touching because that’s the kind of experience we had as children growing up on a ranch. It’s a way for kids to connect with agriculture and natural environment,” said Bodega cattle rancher Walt Ryan, chairman of Farm Bureau’s Agriculture Education Committee.Farm Bureau strives to make the exhibits interesting and interactive.
Ag Days has grown into a major event to represent the many facets of Sonoma County agriculture. Farm Bureau sponsors Ag Days but many agriculture-related groups and individual ranchers support the event. Ranchers like Doug Beretta, Rex and Kerry Williams, Nancy Barlas, Jim and Marcia Mickelson, the Ray Crawford Family and Pat Prather bring livestock ranging from Boer goats to draft horses.
Horse trainer Raye Lochert was the announcer at a horse demonstration showing what kids can do with horses. It was a way for kids to show other kids about the skills that can be learned at local stables.
In addition to the Ag Days exhibits and demonstrations, Farm Bureau also sponsors a number of contests aimed at making children think about the source of their food and fiber. This year the theme of the contests was “Growing a Healthy Future.”
Hundreds of school children entered the contests, which included categories for the best bookmark, poster, essay, scarecrow, mural and farm photograph. The winners in the various contests were recognized at Farm Bureau’s Ag Days Awards Dinner on March 29. There were more than 650 guests at the Ag Days Dinner where parents, teachers, principals and agriculture leaders came together to recognize the accomplishments of the students who were winners in the Ag Days contests.
Michael “J”urian of KTRY country radio station was the emcee for the awards program. Awards were presented by Sonoma County supervisor Shirlee Zane, Dr. Steven Herrington, superintendent of the Sonoma County Office of Education and Dr. Sharon Liddell, superintendent of the Santa Rosa City School District.