Adventures in ag for Manteca kids

MANTECA -- Eight-year-old Taylor Souza took one whiff of a tub of compost grapes and winced.

"It smells like wine," she said. "And I don't like the smell of wine, it's nasty."

Third-graders marveled at some parts of farm life and were not so keen about others as they wandered around produce tables and petted animals at Manteca Unified School District's 50-acre farm Wednesday.

About 2,000 third-graders from southern San Joaquin County schools toured the farm for the AgVenture 2007, which continues today for another 2,000 students. It is put on by a group called Select San Joaquin, a partnership between San Joaquin County, schools, farmers and grocers to promote agriculture.

"This gives kids an understanding so that when they walk down the grocery aisle and see cheese or grapes, they know what people had to do to get them there," said Lodi grape farmer Bob Lauchland. "In the case of grapes, pruning and grafting the vines."

He showed youngsters table grapes and varieties of smaller wine grapes.

Then the third-graders guessed how many gallons of milk an average cow produces a day. The correct answer: about eight.

"If we want people to drink milk and eat

agricultural products, we have a responsibility to show them that milk doesn't come from Food 4 Less, it comes from an animal," said Patti Faria of Escalon.

Her 10-month-old Guernsey heifer, Irish, got most of the attention from third-graders eager to pet its tan coat.

Then there were sheep being sheared, a longhorn bull whose horns measured seven feet across, and two calves, a dairy calf and an Angus calf.

"I'm going to be a veterinar- ian," said third-grader Tori DaSilva, who attends Dent Elementary in Escalon. "This is awesome."

Jacqueline Roth, a sophomore at Manteca High who takes an agricultural biology class and gave presentations Wednesday, explained that the Angus calf would be sold for meat in June and its hooves used for glue or jelly.

Tori and fellow aspiring veterinarian Lupita Moreno said the news made them sad.

There were other surprising lessons for the students.

Because people are meat- eaters, human eyes face straight ahead, unlike horses, which are vegetarians and have eyes facing the sides, said Joe DeAngelis, a mounted officer with the Manteca Police Department.

His quarter horse, Hobbie, was met by trepidation followed by affection as students discovered he didn't bite.

"He's not going to eat you," DeAngelis said. "You know why? Because he's a vegetarian. He's more afraid of you than you are of him."

After at least an hour of muzzle petting, Hobbie began sneezing and DeAngelis limited the time each group of students could pet the horse, which appeared to be the popular attraction of the day.

"I don't have a horse yet but I want one," said Kaleb Warren, a third-grader from Dent. "I never knew that if you are on one side of the horse, the horse gets used to you. And that it would be like another person if you go to the other side because we don't do that."

Bee staff writer Inga Miller can be reached at imiller@modbee.com or 599-8760.