Volunteers bring Farm Day to SF schoolkids

Issue Date: October 26, 2011
By Ching Lee
Students at Gordon J. Lau Elementary School in San Francisco take a close look at Norman the calf during San Francisco Farm Day 2011, held in celebration of the California Foundation for Agriculture in the Classroom’s 25 years of educating children where their food and fiber come from.
Photo/Ching Lee
Sacramento County farmer Mel Welcher introduces Harry the ram to students at Gordon J. Lau Elementary School during San Francisco Farm Day.
The schoolchildren also held turkey poults.
California Foundation for Agriculture in the Classroom Chairman Kenny Watkins, who is also CFBF first vice president, discusses the goals of Farm Day with San Francisco Chronicle reporter Jill Tucker.

Standing next to Norman the calf, dairy farmer Jerry Corda of Petaluma asked a group of students at Gordon J. Lau Elementary School in San Francisco to name different types of dairy products that come from cows.

A few hands went up, but most of the little arms were reaching to pet Norman.

"They're kind of in awe," Corda said of the schoolchildren. "Even the adults look amazed at seeing farm animals in San Francisco."

Corda was among more than 300 farmer and rancher volunteers who converged on the city last week with their livestock and crops for San Francisco Farm Day 2011, an event that brought the farm to more than 10,000 urban students as the California Foundation for Agriculture in the Classroom celebrated 25 years of agricultural education in the city that hosted the first Farm Day.

In addition to seeing, smelling and touching different farm animals, students at 25 San Francisco school campuses and the Cow Palace learned about where their food and clothes come from through a first-hand look at farm and ranch activities, including how to milk cows, candle eggs and hull rice.

Students also planted gardens and participated in hands-on educational displays such as the Egg Mobile and the California Dairy Council Mobile Dairy Classroom, and heard presentations by farmers, ranchers and agricultural specialists.

"The volunteers learn as much as the students do," said Kenny Watkins, chairman of CFAITC and first vice president of the California Farm Bureau Federation.

Watkins was involved in the first Farm Day, and he said that experience opened his eyes to the importance of educating consumers and their children about food and agriculture.

"You can talk about it all you want, but until you see it on a child's face and hear their reaction, you don't grasp the impact that you can make on these students," he said. "The more people that understand what it takes to produce their food, the brighter our future will be."

CFAITC Executive Director Judy Culbertson said many of the students have never stepped out of the city or their communities and are far removed from the source of their food and fiber, and events such as Farm Day help to make the connection between agriculture and what they eat and wear.

"Our celebration of 25 years of agricultural literacy could not have been more spectacular," she said. "Having been there for the first San Francisco Farm Day, it's amazing to see that the enthusiasm for Farm Day from both the schools and the students was as strong as ever."

She noted that many of the volunteers left their farms as early as 4 a.m. that day to travel across the bay to the city, with the schools waiting for them with welcome signs and prepared questions.

"If it weren't for all the farmers and ranchers bringing their stories to the students, we wouldn't have made such an impact on the city," Culbertson said.

Participating in Farm Day 2011 marked a coming full circle for Corda and his daughter Charisse Frago, both of whom were also at the first Farm Day, when Frago was only five. She said she doesn't remember too much about that day except helping her dad give presentations with their dairy cows. This time, she brought her own daughter, Hannah, with her.

Dennis Chew, principal at Lau Elementary, which is located in Chinatown, said when he and his staff heard that CFAITC was putting on Farm Day, he knew it would be an excellent opportunity for his students, whom he described as having "very, very limited" exposure to agriculture.

"Education has to go beyond the classroom and the books," he said. "You can research and talk about a cow or a sheep, but actually touching the animals, smelling the animals and seeing the animals live—it makes a world of difference. This, they will remember."

(Ching Lee is an assistant editor of Ag Alert. She may be contacted at clee@cfbf.com.)

Permission for use is granted, however, credit must be made to the California Farm Bureau Federation when reprinting this item.