Bustling crowds milled through the Lodi Grape Festival Grounds, weaving through towering machines. Ponies, alpacas and goats were penned up in a petting zoo where eager little hands reached through to stroke soft fur. Inside, local growers and business owners explained their craft to inquiring groups.
This was the Lodi-Linden AgVenture 2012. More than 3,000 third-graders descended on the grounds to explore the journey from farm to fridge.
After six years, teachers and volunteers are used to the drill. Classes moved smoothly from one station to the next. But the students were wide-eyed with wonder.
During the four-hour field day, students are introduced to a range of aspects of farm life as well as other aspects of the industry. Volunteers gave presentations on train safety, allowing kids to ring a train bell afterward. The line was long for a chance to make cream into butter using a hand crank, and then sample the goods on a cracker.
Event coordinators were bundled against the chill wind as they surveyed the scene with satisfaction.
"These are our future consumers. We want to familiarize them with local crops, so they know not to purchase watermelons in January," Janet Dyk, AgVenture coordinator.
Candy Petersen, a cattle rancher in Farmington and a member of the San Joaquin and Stanislaus Cattlewomen, was on hand to share her knowledge with a diorama of a cattle ranch, complete with barns, fences and cow figurines.
A group of students from Creekside School learned that one cow can make 720 hamburgers. They learned Texas longhorn cattle have horns with a width of five feet. And they learned Black Baldies are a breed of beef cattle popular for their docile nature and high beef content.
But this wasn't the information that stood out.
Jaws dropped open when Petersen explained cow byproducts are used in shampoo.
"I'm never washing my hair again!" said America Andazola, 8.
Petersen wasn't surprised at the kids' reaction.
"They have no idea what animals represent to human existence," she said. "Cows are noble creatures. They give their lives so our lives can be better."
In another corner of the Grape Pavilion, Kevin Moorman, 17, used sugar cubes to demonstrate how much sugar is in an average bottle of soda, and how to read nutrition labels.
"We want kids to make healthy choices. Water is really the best choice during the day, with a glass of milk at dinner," he said. Moorman studies sports medicine in an ROP program, so he volunteered to help teach nutrition at AgVenture. Kids shouted out different kinds of veggies and fruits as tasty alternatives to junk food and sodas.
More presentations on corn, tomatoes and weights and measures were scattered around the grounds.
Agriculture is the No. 1 industry in the county, said San Joaquin County Agriculture Commissioner Scott Hudson, so officials are keen to explain to kids why it's so important.
"I hope these kids will get a better appreciation for agriculture. They need to learn that food comes from the farm, not from grocery store shelves," said Hudson.
Contact reporter Sara Jane Pohlman at email@example.com.