Chocolate milk doesn't come from brown cows. Those leafy plants with the thick white blossoms on them actually go into producing the clothing we all wear.
These are some of the lessons that about 1,200 third-graders from Merced city schools learned Thursday morning at the first-ever Farm to Fridge event. It was co-sponsored by the Merced County Office of Education, MCOE Foundation, Merced County Farm Bureau and Merced City School District.
Steve Gomes, county superintendent of schools, said there is a huge disconnect between the farming community and urban residents, even in the farm-rich Central Valley.
He is hoping the four-hour event at the Merced County Fairgrounds will dispel some of the myths surrounding agriculture.
Amanda Carvajal, farm bureau executive director, was elated by the large turnout for the pilot event. Gomes said next year's Farm to Fridge likely will involve about 3,800 students from throughout the county.
Aquarius Sa'olele, 8, a third-grader at John Muir School, learned that many of her shirts, pants and socks came from bolls of cotton such as those on exhibit in the fairgrounds' Commerce Building.
Fellow third-grader Carrie Inthavong, also 8, learned protein is essential in the diet of children as they grow. She was excited to feel cotton for the first time.
Dominick Vargas learned about various foods and was especially interested in dairies.
Making better choices
Their teacher, Lynette Barber, said the program will enable her students to make wiser choices about what they eat. She said children need to be aware where the foods they consume come from.
David Correia, 14, a Bu- hach Colony High School freshman and FFA member volunteering at the event, is hoping the third-graders he hosted will join the FFA some day. His family owns a dairy where 2,000 cows are milked. He wants to own a dairy when he grows up.
Carvajal said the program is important because there is so much that encompasses agriculture.
Forty-four different classes and their teachers attended, along with about 60 volunteers, many from FFA groups at Buhach Colony, Atwater, Merced and Golden Valley high schools.
A massive Case-IH 350 HD tractor with four towering wheels stood sentinel around the exhibit areas. Several producers had flats of plants and vegetables for students to examine.
Vendors and exhibitors from Hilmar Cheese Co., Dole, Bonnie Plants, Sensient, Operation Lifesaver, Alvernaz Family Sweet Potatoes, Duarte Nursery, the Merced Irrigation District and Grasslands Water District, Clover Leaf Farms, the Merced County Mosquito Abatement District, Ag Link, N&S Tractors, CAFF/CCOF Organic Pest Management, Silverbell Barn, Santa Fe Pet Hospital and others were represented.
Ag educators, nutritionists, producers, processors and other exhibitors made 10-minute presentations to the students. Gomes said when he was an ag teacher and did demonstrations, his students were shocked to see that milk came out of a cow warm.
Gomes, a former ag teacher, said it is rewarding as an educator to see children of former students being involved in educational activities. He said he was approached about four months ago by the farm bureau to conduct the event.
"Kids seemed to be excited and engaged," Gomes said. "This is relevant instruction; they can see it."
Katie Migliazzo, 17, the District 6 dairy princess, was urging students to look for the Real California Milk seal on dairy products when shopping at the grocery store.
Her family has had a dairy since 1952 and now milk 800 registered Holsteins. Her father, Dante Migliazzo, has been a member of the California Milk Advisory Board for about 15 years and was one of Gomes' students years ago at Merced High School.
Katie's mother, Kristi, said Gomes has profoundly influenced her family for years.
"This event has been wonderful," Kristi Migliazzo said. "It sparks an interest in where food comes from and how important the Central Valley is to our daily lives."
Farm to Fridge cost about $2,500 with sponsorships from the county schools office, its foundation, the Merced City School District and the farm bureau.
Reporter Doane Yawger can be reached at (209) 385-2407 or email@example.com.