Merced County third-graders learn origin of the foods they eat

dyawger@mercedsunstar.comOctober 17, 2013 

— About 3,200 third-graders from throughout Merced County got a hands-on look at agriculture through the second annual Farm2U program Thursday morning at the county fairgrounds.

Amanda Carvajal, executive director of the Merced County Farm Bureau and the event coordinator, said Farm2U is building a connection between agriculture and students, exactly what was hoped for when the initial idea was proposed last year.

Carvajal said the event has tripled in size since last year. Seventy-five presenters showed children their expertise in specific fields in agriculture. More than 100 volunteers, many of them FFA students from throughout the county, escorted students between information stations and manned some of the exhibits.

“There were more than 30 donors,” Carvajal said. “It’s been a community effort.”

Krystyna Gaestel, a third-grade teacher at Joe Stefani Elementary School, said Farm2U is an amazing show and her students loved it, especially the hands-on activities. Organizers sent classroom materials to Gaestel, which she said were very helpful.

Jose Chavez, 8, of Atwater is a student at Mitchell K-6 Elementary School in Atwater. He especially enjoyed learning about cows, how much milk they produced and how cows are bred. The small engines exhibit manned by Golden Valley High School FFA students also ranked as one of his favorites.

Natalie Shaw, also a Mitchell third-grader, likes sweet potatoes and learning about different things – such as pygmy goats. Students got to pet two pygmy goats being held by Atwater FFA students, making it a popular destination.

Susan Gaestel was leading her Chenoweth School third-graders through the exhibits. She said Farm2U is a wonderful opportunity for students to learn in a setting outside the classroom, and a great way to expose youngsters to the world of agriculture.

Gaestel said students definitely will add Thursday’s experiences to the personal narratives they are working on in their classrooms.

Ann-Marie Felsinger, with the Merced Irrigation District’s water administration department, said students were fascinated with the model of the turbine that generates power inside the New Exchequer Dam. She explained to students how water is stored and then released, particularly deliveries to farmers.

Sweet potato grower Jim Alvernaz of Livingston fielded many questions from youngsters about sweet potatoes. Alvernaz told one inquisitive student the biggest sweet potato he had encountered weighed 25 pounds.

Denise Skidmore, director of education and public relations at Hilmar Cheese Co., had a booth where students learned about career opportunities at the cheese company. She said Farm2U was a great chance for youngsters to learn about the county’s top industry – agriculture.

Students also could check out massive brand-new Case IH tractors on exhibit, learn from beekeeper Ralph Sauter and get up close with alpacas and miniature horses exhibited by Macedo’s Mini Acre. Representatives from the Merced County Courthouse Museum showed eager students photo exhibits from early ag enterprises.

Pacific Gas and Electric Co. had a detailed model showing high-voltage power lines, school buses and utility work trucks, all to emphasize safety. Students also sniffed a card showing them what natural gas smelled like.

Cotton grower J.P. Favier of Merced had examples of this year’s cotton crop. Cotton harvesting began Monday.

Because of Farm2U, more Merced County youngsters understand the importance of harvesting crops and raising livestock.

Sun-Star staff writer Doane Yawger can be reached at (209) 385-2407 or dyawger@mercedsunstar.com.

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