For those of us who grew up on a farm, it’s hard to imagine that a third grade kid in Sonoma County has never touched the fuzzy hairs on a piglet’s snout or heard the peep of a baby chick. These are experiences essential for any kid, particularly, one living in agriculture rich Sonoma County where farms and ranches shape the working landscape and propel the economy. But these days, urban kids, several generations removed from the farm and living in suburban Santa Rosa or Rohnert Park, have no grounding when it comes to cows and sows. Often, particularly, in the case of minority kids, there is not enough time or money to attend fairs to see the farm animals on display.
That’s why Ag Days, an annual spring tradition in Sonoma County, is so important to kids and Sonoma County’s agricultural future. Farm Bureau and the Sonoma County Fair sponsor Ag Days as a way to connect kids to the agricultural industry that unfolds on the urban edge. This year’s Ag Days, the 35th annual, will be held March 17-18 at the fairgrounds. More than 5,000 students, teachers and parents will attend over the two days.
The importance and value of Ag Days hits home every year. Two years ago, a third grader thought the Beretta family’s Jersey calf was a baby camel. What? Then, there is the joy of seeing kids interact for the very first time with baby pigs from the Crawford Ranch and chicks and ducklings brought by Western Farm Center. One exuberant third grade student, delirious from the sights, sounds and smells of Ag Days, proclaimed “This is the best day of my life.” He could be a future farmer.
Ag Days started 35 years ago when agricultural groups got together to stage a free agricultural event for urban school kids. Even in 1979 it was clear that most families had lost their farm connection and were in desperate need of a crash course in Agriculture 101. The county’s farmers and ranchers, concerned about the shift away from a rural, agrarian society, quickly realized that without a farm-based electorate, agriculture’s future was threatened. The idea of Ag Days is to reach the kids who will one day be voting on issues impacting the county’s farming industry. Voters don’t need a complete understanding of the principles of agriculture but it sure helps if they appreciate the value of farming to Sonoma County. It also helps to meet real farmers and ranchers like dairy rancher Doug Beretta, a fixture at Ag Days for nearly 30 years, or Dick Dilworth, the Geyserville grape grower who brings his Belgian draft horses to Ag Days.
“I do it for the kids. Seeing their eyes light up when they see these horses close up makes it all worthwhile for me. Where else are the kids going to see this?” said Dilworth.
Indeed, ranchers like Dilworth and Beretta join each year with Farm Bureau, the fair and more than 50 organizations and agricultural business to bring kids a meaningful, positive experience about farms and farmers.
As Beretta says, “Ag Days are all about educating and connecting with kids. There are more urban residents than farmers in Sonoma County so agriculture’s future depends on voters who have an understanding and appreciation for the farming industry that keeps land in open space and maintains the rural character that makes Sonoma County such a special place.”