Ag in the Parking Lot

My Generation

The Fulton County Farm Bureau takes agriculture - and real, live livestock - straight to a suburban school.

Published on: April 1, 2010

What a day.

400 miles. 300-plus school kids. 7 farmers. 5 farm kids.

4 cows, 2 pigs, 3 sheep, 2 horses, 2 chickens, 3 rabbits and a duck. In two trailers.

We spent the day yesterday visiting with the schoolchildren of the St. Germaine School in Oak Lawn, a Chicago suburb and site of our "adopted" classroom, and sharing with the story of their food. Where it comes from, how we care for the animals, what it means to them. Why they should care.

And they got to pet the animals. And smell their messes. Ipava farmer and cattleman Randy Farr told group after group of children why farmers handle baby pigs by their back leg - demonstrating exactly what they do when you pick them up by the belly. They don't like it. They squeal A LOT. Which makes schoolchildren squeal and laugh A LOT.

Our farm contributed a cow and calf: "Gussie," who may be the most unflappable Shorthorn cow alive. And we took along the kids' bottle calf, who's now named Buttercup (Long story, but suffice to say there was a mix-up in sex ID that got cleared up when it came time to band him. I mean, her.). We also let Jenna and Nathan come along for the day, so they could tell the city kids all about Buttercup. The teachers loved it, telling their students, "These are real farm kids! They live on a real farm!" One student asked, "You mean, like they're in a commercial on TV?" Um, no. They're for real. Totally.

All in all, it was an amazing day. We had perfect weather, a vast parking lot set up with stations, where the kids moved from animal to animal, listening to what we had to say and asking thoughtful questions. And because we'd been communicating with one of the classes for a couple of years now, they even recognized our kids from some harvest photos we'd sent last fall. And they knew stuff. Several could tell me about the two different types of cows (dairy and beef).

And not a single child quaked at the notion that these animals would become food someday. "We like bacon!" they said, and "Yummmm…steak!"

Randy even had a chance to share a positive message with a parent who stopped by. He wanted to talk about the movie, Food, Inc., and Randy was able to share why organic is a fine alternative, but it's not OK for some folks to dictate that all food be raised that way. The father agreed, though he seemed to think the movie actually presented both sides. Regardless, Randy was thrilled at being able to have an intelligent conversation with someone about it. "That the kind of conversation I just live for!" he said afterwards.

And the only thing resembling a whiff of animal rights activism all day came when we first began unloading the animals. A woman pulled her car into the school's parking lot and asked our Ag in the Classroom coordinator, who happened to be walking her horse around after just taking her off the trailer, "You're not going to hurt these animals, are you?" It would have been funny, if she weren't serious. But it was another chance to share our message, and share we did.

This was a good day. We told our story, and 300-some suburban schoolchildren now know real farmers with real animals.

Check out videos from the day, including Nathan and John showing cattle and Randy with those pigs. Click on the links below to go to our video player.

A little calf time.

A pig handling demonstration.