Dairyman Doug Beretta says he's seen a marked change in kids over the past decade. Fewer and fewer know where their food comes from.
"I used to hear, 'we get to go to grandma and grandpa's farm,' " said Beretta, a director of the Sonoma County Farm Bureau and president of the county Fair Board. "We don't hear that anymore.
"It's really important we bring agriculture to them," he said Tuesday as hundreds of county school kids swarmed over the county fairgrounds in Santa Rosa as part of the 33rd annual Ag Days, put on by the Farm Bureau. "If they don't know where their food comes from, it's really difficult to steer them in the right way as they get older."
Organizers expect up to 3,500 students to visit the ag-themed event Tuesday and today. It features displays of animals, exhibits on environmental and farm-related products and organizations, and demonstrations such as horse riding, cattle roping and border collie handling.
"I think it's pretty cool that they are letting us pet them," said Heidi Garcia, 9, a third-grader at Jack London Elementary in Santa Rosa after petting some baby goats.
"I think they're really cute," added fellow third grader Aubry Cordova, 9.
While many students seemed unfamiliar with what they were seeing, others worked to share their deep familiarity with agriculture.
"It's like a sense of pride, because I live on a farm," said Sierra Letvinchuck, 11, a 4-H Club member from Fulton, displaying her fluffy gray rabbit Thumper for her fellow students. "I am kind of sad they don't get a chance. This is their chance to feel and hold and really get to know what an animal is."
Thumper made a big impression on first-grader Brandon Madrid, 6, of Hidden Valley Satellite Elementary School in Santa Rosa.
"It makes me feel like I could have a pet and," he said, pausing and miming giving his imaginary pet a big hug.
Elsewhere, displays and demonstrations sought to bring home to students how agriculture affects their lives. In one building, a row of banquet tables set for 155 people, represented by cardboard cutouts with the faces of various celebrities, demonstrated how many Americans the average farmer can feed. Elsewhere, producers handed out products such as apple cider and honey sticks in front of displays detailing what it took for farmers and processors to get the items into the students' hands.
Sonoma County's nationally-known "Twin Chefs," 11-year-olds Lilly and Audrey Andrews, demonstrated healthy cooking for their fellow elementary school students. They decided to feature three dishes using honey because, as Lilly explains, it is "the natural sweetener of life."
"We love meeting kids who want to learn more about cooking, like us," Audrey said.
Kindergarten teacher Karen Anderson from Sheppard Elementary in Santa Rosa said her youngsters come back from Ag Days wildly excited about the chance to touch and see the farm life they have only read about.
"For them to actually experience it is a whole different thing than to talk about it or read about it in a book," she said.
Of course, the reality does sometimes come as a surprise.
"It does shock them at times that they are eating these animals because they don't have that awareness" of the connection between farm and food, she said.