Growing up in the city, Turlock High School sophomore Lali Valadez didn’t become interested in agriculture until high school when she joined her campus’ Future Farmers of America chapter. So, when she and other members visited Cunningham Elementary School Friday morning to give students an ag day experience, she was overjoyed at what she saw.
Since adopting a school-wide focus on agriculture last year, Cunningham’s students have kept busy through hands-on agricultural activities on campus. From watching quail hatch in a classroom incubator to tending to their school garden, kids at Cunningham have far more exposure to agriculture at a young age than Valadez ever had, she said.
“At my elementary school, we didn’t have any animals or anything like this,” Valadez said. “I had no idea about agriculture and almonds or any of that stuff until I got high school and joined the FFA, so having something like this in elementary school could’ve exposed me to that way earlier.”
For the second straight year, THS FFA members provided a day of agricultural education for Cunningham students, providing insight on different topics like the region’s commodities and livestock, as well as teaching them how to propagate plants, make ice cream and even extract DNA from a strawberry.
“A lot of kids don’t know that they’re surrounded by agriculture, so it’s really cool when we get to take all of the different aspects of the FFA and bring it here to them,” THS sophomore Joy Frost said. “I grew up with an agriculture background but not everyone has that, so when we get to show them these things they’ll have more of an idea when they grow up of where they want to go.”
With a majority of California’s farmers reaching retirement age, Cunningham Principal Tami Truax said that she wanted her school to focus on agriculture in hopes to inspire the next generation of ag leaders. Days like Friday – and others throughout the year spent at the school district farm or local agribusinesses – are meant to expose students to the opportunities that the world of agriculture holds.
“This day is all about exposing them to the world of agriculture and, really, all that agriculture does for our lives,” Truax said. “It’s about building ag literacy, and then hoping down the road some of these students will see these as career opportunities.
“No doubt, after today there’s going to be some kids that have a greater appreciation for all these aspects of agriculture.”
The elementary school’s agriculture focus may highlight how surrounding farms work, where we get our milk from and the different materials our clothing is made from, but the topic works its way into other school subjects as well, Truax said. For example, in history class some students are learning about ancient Egypt, focusing on not only things like their culture and architecture, but also about the Nile River and how the early civilization was the first to irrigate its crops.
“Ag relates to a lot, from the chicken and the egg all the way to ancient Egypt and everything in between,” Truax said.
Valadez, Frost and fellow sophomore Erica Wallace were in charge of the ag day’s propagating station, where students were able to replant a piece of a snake plant into fresh soil, where it would soon grow again.
“My favorite part about this day has been seeing the kids’ excited faces when they learn they get to make a new plant and watch it grow over the next month,” Wallace said. “Having them learn about everything this early is good because now they know that what we’re doing here today is something that they could be doing in the future.”
Truax’s petting zoo, featuring some of her animals from home, was a highlight for most students. Lola the bunny was a favorite for most of them and watching the children’s happy expressions while petting the rabbit inspired the principal.
“I think we’ve set some hearts on fire today,” Truax said.