By Dayna Ghirardelli, Executive Director
The Sonoma County Ag Days went off without a hitch. Not even the rain and wind on the first day could keep the children from enjoying the exhibits and snacks that were offered. It was quite enjoyable to see the children in their designated pods being herded by their chaperones from one building to the next as the rain was relentless and the wind blew several red plastic fire hats off of the children’s heads. Never was there a level of disappointment or defeat just quick movement to track down that hat! Thankfully, the second day offered reprieve as the sun shined and the wind stayed away. We saw more children that day and the energy was still that of excitement. They took advantage of the kind weather, enjoying their lunches and snacks on picnic tables and benches outside. I giggled though as the dry day had many chaperones concerned with the invitations of various puddles. There was definitely a bit more leniency with water play the day before in that it couldn’t be avoided from top to bottom.
This was the first traditional Ag Days since 2019. Like all things post-covid, we are seeking what the “new normal” is. Sonoma County Ag Days has always been a much-anticipated event by local schools and teachers. The average level of participation was nearly 6,000 children, parents, and teachers; this year we hosted a little less than half that. Not only are teachers navigating the rigors of post-covid effects by getting students up to speed who have essentially been homeschooled for two years, they are also experiencing fewer conveniences that were once available, such as reasonable bus access and room for additional curriculum. For many, the opportunity to attend has changed. Another factor is that several teachers who have brought their classrooms year after year have since retired, and their newer, younger replacements are not aware of the opportunity Ag Days has to offer. That leads me to our own reflection.
In the “new normal” we need to reimagine our outreach and marketing efforts for Ag Days, and quite frankly, ag education in general. The need to educate about agriculture and to teach folks of all ages where their food comes from is exponentially increasing. We must task ourselves with identifying new opportunities, creating new relationships, and not relying on how “we’ve always done it.” On the other hand, we are exploring bringing back the Summer Ag Academy where local educators are given the opportunity to learn about Sonoma County agriculture by taking tours of local farms and collecting curriculum from us that they can incorporate into their classrooms. There is much we can lean on from a “what works” point of view but we must always be ready to adapt to change, which as farmers and ranchers, we are good at.
Despite lower attendance, this year’s Ag Days was just as successful as year’s past. This is not possible without the time and dedication of so many of our community members who spend two mornings at the fairgrounds educating participants with their displays and volunteering so that we may offer the participants a glimpse into Sonoma County agriculture. This effort would also be far more difficult without the many sponsors within our community who contribute at various levels knowing the importance of agriculture education. I’m not sure I can ever adequately thank those who continuously rise to the occasion in support of these efforts, but I am so very grateful and appreciate all of you.