Sonoma County Farm Bureau sponsors 33rd annual Ag Days at the Fairgrounds
By Tim Tesconi
Geyserville rancher Dick Dilworth swelled with pride as kids looked up – way up - in amazement at his giant draft horses, a matched pair of Belgian beauties named Jada and Megan, on display at Sonoma County Farm Bureau’s Ag Days.
“That’s the biggest horse I’ve ever seen in my life,” marveled one small boy who was among the 3,500 school kids attending Ag Days, held on March 26 and 27 at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds. The annual spring event brings the farm – and ranchers like Dilworth – to the city to provide urban kids a taste of the farm life that is beyond the reach of most urban families today. It’s a chance for the kids to unplug for a low-tech experience like cuddling a baby goat or tickling the ears of a three-day old piglet. In addition to the farm animals, Ag Days offers exhibits on environmental and farm-related products as well as demonstrations ranging from cattle roping to butter making and sheep shearing to horse grooming.
Ag Days comes together each spring because of dedicated ranchers like Dilworth who are willing to transport livestock to the fairgrounds so kids can see and touch farm animals.
“I do it for the kids,” said Dilworth, “Seeing their eyes light up when they see these horses close up makes it all worthwhile for me. Where else are these kids going to see this?”
That’s also the feeling of Santa Rosa dairy rancher Doug Beretta, who has been a fixture at Ag Days since it started 33 years ago. Beretta said most kids are generations removed from the farm. There is no Grandpa’s Farm to visit on weekends so kids need somewhere to go to soak up the sounds, smells and sights of farm life.
“Ag Days brings the farm to them,” said Beretta, who brings Jersey and Holstein calves from his organic dairy for the kids to touch. He believes if farming is to survive in Sonoma County, the urban population has to have an understanding and appreciation for what farmers do. The best place to start is with the kids.
Ag Days is sponsored by Farm Bureau and the Sonoma County Fair to educate the next generation of consumers about the source of their food and the value of a thriving farming industry to the county’s landscape and economy.
Bobby Mickelson of Sonoma Mountain Herefords in Santa Rosa brought cows and calves to Ag Days, giving kids the chance to touch the Herefords they have only seen in picture books, movies or from the car. It’s a powerful experience.
“It’s a great way for kids to see that there are real ranchers and real cows in Sonoma County,” said Michelson, who has been raising cattle since he was a boy, continuing a family tradition that has spanned generations in Sonoma County.
“We want to show the kids how proud we are of our cattle and the great care they get,” said Michelson.
Mickelson’s Hereford calf was a huge hit with Lucy Trione, 7, who was with her mother Amy at Ag Days.
“I want to be a farmer when I grow up,” said Lucy, as she petted the little calf held by Michelson.
“Please touch” was the order of the day at Ag Days. There were baby chicks and ducklings from Western Farm Center and baby goats from the Forestville 4-H Club. The Crawford family brought a litter of Duroc piglets, always the main attraction at Ag Days.
“I just love seeing the kids’faces when they touch the soft hair on the little pigs or hear them squeal,” said Davis Crawford, 18, a senior at El Molino High School and a member of the Forestville FFA.
The children were able to wander through a hay maze created by rancher Norm Yenni of Sonoma and stare down a shaggy Scottish Highland heifer from Petaluma’s Spring Hill Ranch & Vineyard, owned by Chris and Karen London.
The students watched cunning sheep dogs herd ducks and marveled at the dexterity of sheep shearer Judd Redden as he used electric shears to fleece woolly sheep. They petted chickens and ran their fingers through pungent compost.
“It’s important for all of us in agriculture to educate young people about farm life and what it takes to grow the food that we all eat as consumers,” said Bodega livestock rancher Walt Ryan, a director of Sonoma County Farm Bureau and chairman of Farm Bureau’s Agriculture Education Committee.
Teachers said Ag Days gives students the foundation to begin the educational journey to understand where their food comes from and the purpose of the farmland they see from the car on Sunday drives. At Ag Days, they can actually touch the old brown cow that they know from their storybooks. They hear baby pigs squeal and smell what comes from the backend of a kid goat.
Teachers say students who attend Ag Days are able to see and make connections, viewing the entire process of food production. For example, students can view calves, see cows, learn about how "mammals make milk", learn about by-products and then taste milk, cheese and ice cream.
In addition to the exhibits and demonstrations, the kids were able to taste the best of Sonoma County. Kids munched on apples from Andy’s Produce in Sebastopol, cheese from Spring Hill Jersey Cheese, Clover milk, apple juice from Manzana Apple Products in Sebastopol and ice cream from Straus Family Creamery. They also enjoyed “Cutie” mandarins and honey sticks, which connected kids to the Ag Days’ theme, “Bee Healthy….Farm Happy.”
Sonoma County’s nationally known Twin Chefs, 11-year-olds Audrey and Lilly Andrews of Sonoma were at Ag Days demonstrating some of their favorite dishes using honey, one of their favorite foods. It tied in with this year’s bee theme.
Instead of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, the twins like to make honey and goat cheese sandwiches, topped with lemon zest and a mint leaf. They showed kids how to make this tasty and nutritious treat and a couple of their other favorite using honey.
“We love to be at Ag Days meeting other kids who also want to learn about cooking and using food grown in Sonoma County,” said Audrey.
Over the last 33 years, Ag Days has grown into a major event to represent the many facets of Sonoma County agriculture. Farm Bureau and the Sonoma County Fair sponsor Ag Days but many agriculture-related groups, businesses and individuals support the event.
Pat Alexander of Kenwood again organized the horse demonstrations at Ag Days, using kids versed in horsemanship to show what kids can do with horses.
In addition to the Ag Days exhibits and demonstrations, Farm Bureau also sponsors a number of contests aimed at making children think about the source of their food and fiber. This year the contests were based on the theme “Bee Healthy….Farm Happy.”
Hundreds of school children entered the contests, which included categories for the best bookmark, poster, essay, scarecrow, mural, farm photograph, farm video and decorated grocery bag. The winners in the various contests were recognized at Farm Bureau’s Ag Days Awards Dinner on March 26. There were more than 750 guests at the Ag Days Dinner where parents, teachers, principals and agriculture leaders came together to recognize the accomplishments of the students who were winners in the Ag Days contests.
Lex McCorvey, executive director of Sonoma County Farm Bureau, was the emcee for the awards program. Awards were presented by Sonoma County supervisors Susan Gorin and Shirlee Zane, Dr. Steven Herrington, superintendent of the Sonoma County Office of Educaiton and Socorro Shiels, superintendent of Santa Rosa City Schools.