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Commentary: Celebrating a milestone by returning to our roots

Issue Date: February 9, 2011
By Kenny Watkins
The California Foundation for Agriculture in the Classroom has dedicated itself for the past quarter century as a resource for educators and their students, and an advocate for farming and ranching families.

Throughout much of our nation's history, agriculture and education have been inherently connected. For decades, most Americans lived on farms or in small towns, students often did farm chores before and after school, and the school year was determined by planting, cultivating and harvesting schedules. Old school books are full of agricultural references and examples, because farming and farm animals were a familiar part of nearly every child's life.

During the last century, the population of Americans living on the farm has decreased and agriculture has virtually disappeared from school books and educational materials. I've seen this in the education of my own children in our small farming community, for example when the school food service director didn't know what to do with donated fresh cherries and the students didn't know how to eat them. This realization is what drives my commitment to agricultural education and my involvement in the California Foundation for Agriculture in the Classroom.

For 25 years, the foundation has served as a resource for educators and their students, and an advocate for farming and ranching families. Driven by passion and generous support, valuable tools and programs for agricultural education provided by the foundation touch the lives of millions of students across our state.

The vision was born in the early 1980s, when the San Francisco Unified School District was challenged to give city students a basic understanding of their daily necessities and pleasures. Farm organizations organized a "farm day" for San Francisco students, bringing real farmers and farm animals to urban campuses and showing the students where their food comes from.

Now, a quarter century later, we will recreate San Francisco Farm Day, an event that gave the foundation its beginning. On Thursday, Oct. 20, we will bring live farm animals to more than 10,000 students, with farmers and ranchers telling their stories to the students and their teachers.

My wife and I realize the value of these farm days after participating in one of the first events in San Francisco. We saw students' mouths drop open when I squirted milk at the kids from the udder of a dairy cow—the kids didn't know the milk they drank came from cows.

San Francisco Farm Day will also be a unique forum to unite all California farmers and ranchers in showcasing our unmatched diversity and the abundance of the products we grow. There is no time or occasion more important than this to educate the next generation of Californians. Students—even in our most urban schools—have a right to know that the products they consume and enjoy every day all begin on our family farms and ranches, where we take sunlight, water and the most fertile soils in the world to create the high-quality, affordable food that feeds our world. They have a right to know that agriculture drives our state's economy and our nation, while being completely renewable and sustainable.

Lives are forever changed by these kinds of experiences—we know this because we hear about it year after year. Teachers see striking improvements in student test scores and entire classrooms doubling their fruit and vegetable consumption after introducing agricultural education. Struggling students have found their passion and their confidence upon discovering the school farm. Farmers have regained hope for the future of their profession after seeing the spark in children's eyes when they eat a carrot straight from the ground.

You will meet these people, and many others, as Ag in the Classroom celebrates 25 exceptional years through the stories of 25 extraordinary individuals. Look for them throughout the year at wwww.learnaboutag.org/anniversary.

As we count down toward San Francisco Farm Day, Ag in the Classroom will be hosting a number of special events to celebrate its quarter century of success, including celebration fundraisers, tours and teacher conferences. I invite everyone with an interest to join us at San Francisco Farm Day. We are asking all agricultural organizations to participate and make this truly a memorable and impressive event.

Thank you for your support in educating today's students—tomorrow's leaders and voters. The California Foundation for Agriculture in the Classroom appreciates your support, and looks forward to another 25 years of informing and inspiring California students about the industry that sustains us all.

(Kenny Watkins, a cattle rancher and farmer from Linden, is first vice president of the California Farm Bureau Federation and chairs the California Foundation for Agriculture in the Classroom Board of Directors.)

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




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