Olivia Williams, who takes to farming like some kids take to mall shopping, was among the 4-H’ers bringing animals to Ag Days, taking time from her school day to talk to city kids about the ways of life on Sonoma County farms and ranches.
“I love talking about what we do on our ranches. By being at Ag Days I can help educate kids who don’t know anything about agriculture in Sonoma County,” said Olivia, 11, the daughter of ranchers Rex and Kerry Williams of Williams Ranches in Sebastopol. The Williamses produce lamb, wool and hay and operate a sheep dairy in west Sonoma County.
Like her parents, Olivia believes it’s important that the next generation of consumers – and voters – know the value of agriculture to Sonoma County and appreciate the local food produced on fields and farms.
There were more than 4,000 school kids attending Sonoma County Farm Bureau’s Ag Days held on March 25 and 26 at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds. The annual spring event brings the farm – and ranchers like Olivia and her family – 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 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 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.
Volunteers like Bob Higham, a director of the Sonoma County Fair, help with two day event.
“Ag Days was wonderfully organized and staffed. Joy abounded,” said Higham. “What the agriculture community gives to the wider community is amazing. I am so grateful to be on the Fair Board because of the entry it gives me to rub shoulders with such admirable people.”
“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 Thompson Family. The Crawford family brought a litter of 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, 19, a student at Santa Rosa Junior College.
The children were able to wander through a hay maze created by rancher Norm Yenni of Sonoma and stare down shaggy Scottish Highland heifers 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 Santa Rosa rancher Kathy Reese, 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 and cheese.
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 and apple juice from Manzana Apple Products in Sebastopol. They also enjoyed mandarins, carrots and honey sticks.
Sonoma County’s nationally known Twin Chefs, 12-year-olds Audrey and Lilly Andrews of Sonoma were at Ag Days demonstrating how to make fresh and healthy pasta in about the same it takes to open and warm a can of Spaghetti-O’s.
“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 34 years, Ag Days has grown into a major event to represent the many facets of Sonoma County agriculture. Many agriculture-related groups, businesses and individuals support the event.
In addition to the Ag Days exhibits and demonstrations, Farm Bureau sponsors a number of contests aimed at making children think about the source of their food and fiber. This year the Ag Days contests were based on the theme “Our Food, Our Farms.”
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 25. There were more than 800 guests at the dinner.
Kenn Cunningham, an executive with Exchange Bank, served as the emcee for the awards program. Awards were presented by Dr. Steven Herrington, superintendent of the Sonoma County Office of Education, Sonoma County Sheriff Steve Freitas, Agricultural Commissioner Tony Linegar and Dairy Princess Francesca Gambonini of Petaluma.