Writer: D'Lyn Ford
LAS CRUCES - A Kids and Cows and More program designed to bring the farm to the city will be expanding to areas across New Mexico.
"We want to teach young people to appreciate agriculture and understand where their food comes from," said project leader Alfred Gonzalez with New Mexico State University's Cooperative Extension Service, who initiated the program in El Paso in 1990 with the Southwest Dairy Farmers organization. "The more I do this, the more amazed I am at how far removed people are from agriculture. We want to change that."
The expansion is a cooperative effort of NMSU Extension, Texas A & M University and Southwest Dairy Farmers, which provide funding and supervision for the program.
Last year, more than 30,000 people participated in the El Paso program, and a pilot program was held in Albuquerque. "I want to expand this program throughout the state slowly and solidly and take it to a different level," Gonzalez said.
Programs have already been scheduled in Albuquerque and Roswell for Spring 2001, and another is planned for the Clovis-Portales area.
Many of the children who attend Kids and Cows and More are three and four generations removed from an agricultural background, said Mike Looper, an NMSU dairy specialist who helped coordinate the Albuquerque program.
"A lot of kids who go to this program have never even seen a dairy cow," he said. "They don't know what a cow eats and don't know about curds and whey or dairy products. We show them that this is an important part of their lives each day, because they obviously eat."
The existing programs feature a mobile milking demonstration. "We have a parlor set up where we milk a cow in front of the kids so they can see that the milk comes from the udder and not from the back of the store," Gonzalez said.
The expo also features cheese- and butter-making exhibits. Youngsters learn how baby calves are nurtured, what cows eat to produce milk and why drinking milk is important for developing strong, healthy bones.
In addition to dairy-related demonstrations, the "More" portion of the program incorporates informational presentations about local agricultural commodities. In El Paso, for example, exhibits featured pecans, cotton, beef cattle and gardening.
Gonzalez said the El Paso program evolved gradually and has become a two-week event. "It used to be that teachers would take kids to farms on field trips," he said. "But now, because of distance, because of farm specialization and liability, that option isn't always available."
Gonzalez worked as an agricultural extension agent with the Texas Agricultural Extension Service for 19 years before becoming coordinator for the Kids and Cows and More program for both New Mexico and Texas. "The natural way to expand the program is by working with Extension agents," he said. "But we also want to work with any other groups who have an interest in our program as well."
Gonzalez plans to add pre- and post-testing of participants to the program to track the success of the presentations. "The goal is not only to reach as many kids as possible, but also to provide quality, educational experiences for them," he said.
For more information on the Kids and Cows and More project, contact Gonzalez at (915) 872-8791.
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