Showcasing agriculture, Merced County Spring Fair is hands down the best in educating the public.
The “Little Hands for Agriculture” exhibit is not only a perpetual favorite of children attending the fair, a surprising number of adults tour this engaging display of local agriculture and gain a better understanding of this vital industry.
This year, with a bow to the importance of water for irrigation, Little Hands volunteers are adding a new experience to the exhibit.
“This new section will be very visual and eye-opening for all,” said Little Hands coordinator Sonya Wallace. “Everyone can participate in this amazing experiment.”
The water component will add another dimension to Little Hands that uses pretend and play to introduce children to agriculture fundamentals. During the volunteer-led tours of the exhibit, children learn how crops such as cotton and almonds are grown. Wallace said the volunteers also answer a myriad of questions including why almond growers need bees and what cows eat for breakfast.
During their tour of the Little Hands exhibit, children can “plant”, “harvest’ and “sell” their crops in the farm store. They may take their hard-earned profits and purchase healthy snacks – a highlight for many of the children, Wallace said.
Every year a group of hardworking volunteers designs and builds a new Little Hands exhibit. Wallace said as many as 500 persons are involved in the project as guides, in setting up the exhibit and with donations of farm equipment and other visual aides.
Wallace said the group of dedicated volunteers is critical to the continued success of Little Hands. With groups of 25-30 children coming through the exhibit every 10 minutes or so, volunteers guide more than 3,000 children through in three days. The children come from Gustine, Santa Nella and Los Banos districts, but also from private schools and there are also home school groups.
Most Little Hands for Ag volunteers come from agriculture backgrounds and are very knowledgeable about the industry. Many local donors also step up and provide locally grown healthy snacks for the children. Milk, string cheese, raisins, nuts and fruit snacks are all donated.
After school hours and on the weekend, Little Hands for Ag continues to be a popular stop for children and their families.
‘It’s the first thing to see at the fair entrance and kids just pull their parents right over to us,” said Wallace. The children know about the fun that is in store for them from school visits or siblings and they want to show their parents.
“We really are leading the way in Merced County, involving children in a hands-on experience with agriculture. This community invests a lot of time and money in agriculture education because we believe it is important for the public to know what goes into producing food. These children are the next generation of consumers,” said Wallace.
“Little Hands is an amazing hands-on farming experience for kids of all ages,” said Fair Manager Ron Brandt. Sponsors and volunteers who make it such a success are to be commended, he added.
Product contributions come from Blue Diamond Almonds, California Dairies Inc., California Raisin Board, Gallo Cheese and Central California Irrigation District. Little Hands for Ag is free with fair admission.