Kids learn where food comes from during Farm Day

Bolado Park has hosted the event for 24 years to teach third-graders about agriculture

Just about every third-grader in the county could be found March 21 at Bolado Park gawking at cows, rabbits, horses, cattle, chickens, big ol’ tractors, and even watching a man tell them how to shoe a horse during the 24th Annual San Benito County Farm Day.

The event is held to give kids an inkling about all those fields where green plants grow food that mysteriously finds its way to their dinner tables.

“It really is an opportunity for children to learn about agriculture and come out here to get some hands-on experience,” said Mindy Sotelo of the San Benito County Farm Bureau. “Farm Day originally started as a collaboration between the Farm Bureau, cattlemen and women, and other ag organizations. Since the Farm Bureau has a paid staff, it morphed into something that we lead, but we still wouldn’t be able to do it without all the volunteers.”

Sotelo said more than 30 Future Farmers of America (FFA) and 4-H Club members volunteered with presentations, assisting with parking, logistics and anywhere else they were needed. She said students from every school in the county, except for a couple of private schools, participated in the event, which she deemed much more successful than in years past.

“The comments that I’ve gotten back from presenters, from guides and teachers is that this is the best behaved group of children,” she said. “They were more engaged than I’ve ever seen before. I think part of the reason is because we moved inside because of the rain and there are not as many distractions.”

Sotelo said the downpour turned out to be a blessing.

“It forced us to make some changes that we’ll probably keep,” she said, “because it just worked and enhanced the learning experience. That’s what we’re aiming for, that the kids go away with a greater understanding of agriculture.”

The quality and flexibility of the presenters were crucial, she noted. Despite the rain, she said the day was “super smooth and amazing.”

While Farm Day is free to those attending, there is a cost to put it on, Sotelo said.

“The Farm Bureau pays for transportation for the schools to come,” she said, “which runs us several thousand dollars. There are the invitations and other things, but it’s still pretty much of a volunteer effort. None of the presenters are paid. The committee isn’t paid. It truly is about the community coming together and educating the kids about something we’re very passionate about.”

Once upon a time, organizing Farm Day was pretty much a year-round effort, but in recent years, it has operated like a well-oiled machine, but someone has to be in the driver’s seat. Alison Clark has been that person for several years. Clark, a Hollister resident, said the event has always been important to her. She said the success of the event is because of its committee.

“We have a really good core group and support of the Farm Bureau,” she said, “as well as volunteers who are in the kitchen, and all the presenters are taking time out of their workday and making money, in order to be here to educate the students. We’ve got a lot of it down as far as what we need to do. The presenters and our guides come year after year, so they know the drill.”

One of the volunteers was Jae Eade, one of the directors of the Saddle Horse Association. She was busily showing hundreds of youngsters the organization’s museum filled with photos, memorabilia, saddles and other riding gear that had belonged to ranchers, cowboys, and just plain horse lovers.

“We want the kids to know the history of San Benito County,” Eade said. “This museum has been such a fabulous part of this community. Rebecca Wolf and her father started this and she keeps it going. When the kids come through, we like them to be able to see what San Benito County is about. We tell them about Mrs. Bolado and the Spanish land grants and that started this for us. We just want them to come to our show and enjoy the history of our county.”

Louann Sackett, who teaches third grade at Ladd Lane Elementary School, said, “This is an awesome event to teach students what San Benito County is all about,” she said as she held up a red sign with her last name on it in order to keep the herd of students close at hand. “Many of them don’t even know that milk comes from a cow. Many of our students never get to the fair, so this is an opportunity for them to come and learn, to see how hard people work and what it takes to be a rancher or farmer. This kind of education is so important.”

One of the presenters drove his own cow, or rather a cow that belonged to the Dairy Council of California, to the event as a living, mobile teaching aid. Her name was Buttercup the Third. As her calf slept in an adjacent stall, she munched unconcerned on alfalfa as her handler, Brandon, showed a group of antsy 8-year-olds her various body parts and explained the benefits of milk as one element of the five food groups.

In the grandstand area, kids lined up to see massive tractors and other farming equipment lined up in the arena area, while on the other side of the fairgrounds, Bret Johnson explained to an enthralled bunch how to shoe a horse. Other groups followed teachers with bright red and yellow signs emblazoned with their names around the maze of stalls to where FFA and 4-H members showed them prized bunnies, goats and sheep.

Afterwards, the kids were rounded up and taken inside the main building for a quick lunch. Then they raced through a torrential downpour to the waiting buses to take them back to their schools. As the kids departed, the volunteers and presenters were treated to a lunch of fresh mixed berries from Driscoll’s, salads donated by Taylor Farms, broccolini courtesy of Mann Packing, beans donated by Lettie & Carmen, and tri tip from Top Flavor Farms.

John Chadwell

John Chadwell is a freelance photojournalist with additional experience as a copywriter, ghostwriter, scriptwriter, and novelist. He is a former U.S. Navy Combat Photojournalist and is an award-winning writer, having worked for magazine, newspapers, radio and television. He has a BA in Journalism and Mass Communications from Chapman University and graduate studies at USC Cinema School. John worked as a scriptwriting consultant, and his own script, "God's Club," was produced and released in 2016. He has also written eight novels, ranging from science fiction to true crime, which are sold on Amazon. To contact John Chadwell, send an email to: [email protected]