WAUSEON -- When it comes to agriculture, many kids don't know beans about carrots or cows, peppers or pigs, apples or alpacas.
Consider this: When asked during an Ag Fest yesterday about the origins of chocolate, not one but two classes replied that -- hold onto your straw hats, folks -- chocolate comes from cows.
Let's repeat that: Chocolate comes from cows.
Hard to sugarcoat the disconnect there.
Making it a smidge worse, these were Fulton County children, who live in a county deeply rooted in agriculture, a county where farmers toil in fertile fields and silos stretch skyward.
And that, several educators said, is precisely why the annual Ag Fest is important: to reconnect young people to food, from plants to plates.
"Our kids today are so urban, so suburban," said Jill Stechschulte, 4-H educator in Fulton County. "There is such a disconnect between farming and the food people eat. This is the reason we do Ag Fest. We need to make sure consumers know where their food comes from."
During the seventh annual Fulton County Ag Fest at the county fairgrounds near Wauseon this week, nearly 650 fourth graders from several area schools are learning about agriculture-related topics such as wool-spinning, beekeeping, and corn harvesting.
During her Loco for Cocoa sessions, Mrs. Stechschulte kicked the (milk) can on the Hershey/Jersey misconnection, and told students about the agricultural connection to chocolate shops in Pettisville and Archbold and how harvested seeds from cacao trees in Central America provide jobs locally.
Overall, Ag Fest cultivated a coolness factor, in part because some -- OK, make that many -- students saw a real live cow (and an oh-so-cute calf) for the first time.
"I think this day is so valuable for the kids. We are trying to keep agriculture connected to the people. Nothing more than that," said Judd McClarren, who drove his team of horses from his nearby farm to the fairgrounds. After learning about corn harvesting, past and present, from Mr. McClarren, children climbed into a wagon and went on a horse-drawn hay ride.
Proving that farms aren't foreign places to all youngsters at the Ag Fest, which concludes today, fourth grader Trent Sauber noted correctly that it was actually a straw ride …bales of straw, not hay, were in the wagon. And he knows this how? "I took hogs to the fair. I used straw for their bedding," he said.
Few, very few, of the students live on farms. In one class, only three hands went up when asked how many live not just in a rural area, but actually on a working farm.
"We're three generations off direct involvement with parents or grandparents in farming. Many kids today have no one with an agricultural business they can relate to," said Fulton County Commissioner Dean Genter. "For a lot of them, this is the first time for them to see the fairgrounds and to see the types of animals and crops raised in the county."
As students rotated through several hands-on activity stations, one youngster blanched when he walked into a building where Cherreen Thompson of Swanton was working at a spinning wheel.
"Looks like dead dogs," the boy said. Um, no. It was piles of fleece. Dyed fleece.
As she wove stories about farm animals and fabrics, Miss Thompson spun fleece, supplied by her 19-year-old llama Vole, into yarn for bracelets for each student.
Ag Fest teaches youngsters that farmers produce plants and animals for clothing and food, she said. "Kids know carrots come in a bag, but they don't know how they get in a bag," she said. Nine-year-old Vincent Popejoy of Wauseon said Ag Fest "teaches us about new stuff so when we get older, we can teach younger ones where food comes from."
His teacher, Terry Beck of Pettisville, who grew up on a farm, said many students "don't know why agriculture is so important in Fulton County. This is a great way to expose them to that."
Added Amanda Podach, education specialist for the Fulton Soil and Water Conservation District which organizes the annual event: "Kids are missing the importance of agriculture in their every day lives. Ask kids today what agriculture is, and you get a blank stare. Ag Fest gives them a better understanding of agriculture."
Local farmers were among those assisting with the event, such as by providing lunch items.
Commissioner Genter handed out freshly made hamburgers, Commissioner Perry Rupp encouraged youngsters to take apples, and Commissioner Paul Barnaby asked students if they wanted white or chocolate milk.
Chocolate milk. Cows. Milk chocolate.
Contact Janet Romaker at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6006.