The Fresno Fairgrounds routinely welcomes student groups of all ages and grade levels during October’s Big Fresno Fair. But on March 18, its gates opened to one special group. Fresno County third graders — including students from Clovis elementary schools Fort Washington and Tarpey — attended the 11th annual Fresno County Farm and Nutrition Day, an event jointly sponsored by the Fresno County Farm Bureau and The Big Fresno Fair.
More than 3,500 third grade students attended, said Katie Rodgers, public relations manager for the FCFB. Although it does coincide with National Nutrition Month, the day was conceived with a greater learning goal in mind.
“It’s essentially an opportunity for us to expose the kids in our backyard to the surrounding agricultural industry,” said Ryan Jacobsen, CEO and executive director of the FCFB. The event targets third graders, he said, because third grade students study local history as well as their own heritage.
To encourage participation, Rodgers said, Farm and Nutrition Day is free to attend, and the FCFB offers partial transportation reimbursement to participating schools.
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More than 50 exhibitors and 120 volunteers were on hand to teach the students about everything from healthy eating habits using the USDA’s My Plate guidelines to how earthworms can be used in composting. The Dairy Council of California, with the help of its mobile dairy unit and a live cow, hosted seminars where students learned about dairy technology and cow anatomy. Sanger’s Busy Bees Honey Farm brought a hive full of live honeybees to help teach students about how pollinators benefit the earth.
Over in the greenhouse building, students planted lettuce under the tutelage of volunteers like Mariles Cehender, whose background is in farming. “I’m showing the kids how to plant salad,” she said. “They get to take this home and, hopefully, they will grow it.”
On the other side of the building, students lined up to sample an assortment of items produced by Fresno County farmers. Raisins, olives, peach cups, milk and pistachios were on the tasting menu. The tasting center, said Rodgers, is always one of the more popular attractions.
Another favorite? Cattle roping. Volunteers from the Clovis Rodeo, Fresno Madera Farm Credit, Fresno-Kings County Cattlemen and Fresno Kings-County Cattlewomen patiently instructed a steady stream of youngsters in the finer points of the skill.
“We’re just giving the kids hands-on exposure about western life,” said volunteer George Porter, who assists at the activity each year. “This really is our way of life. The kids all seem like they enjoy it — out of 3,500 kids that come through, 3,400 will get their hands on a rope. Or, it seems that way,” he said, laughing.
On the way to the grandstand to watch an American Quarter Horse exhibition, Fort Washington student Danica Curry explained her group’s strategy for the day: “We like to see all the different things that are here. We’re checking everything out.” Her group, she enthused, had already learned about fruits and vegetables and received samples from various exhibitors.
“It was really well organized,” said DeeDee Jett, one of four Tarpey teachers who brought her students. “We usually go to the Fresno Fair, but this was the first year we opted to go to this instead. We were really pleasantly surprised.
“What my kids got out of it was a little better picture into Fresno County ag. The [Big Fresno] fair is all about Fresno County, but sometimes they don’t really grasp the diversity and all the different aspects of agriculture in our valley ... and this was really good for that because they weren’t distracted by the corn dogs and all the souvenirs. All four of us decided we wanted to go back next year.”
They’ll want to sign up early. Registration, Jacobsen said, closes earlier each year as it fills to capacity months in advance.
“It’s become competitive now,” he marveled. “It’s getting to see a tractor, see a farmer. It’s an opportunity to talk one-on-one. It gets them out of the classroom. It’s one of the best things our organization does on an annual basis.”