Writer: Darrell J. Pehr, 575-646-3223, email@example.com
LAS CRUCES - A second-grader eating a peanut butter and jelly sandwich probably doesn't think of the golden wheat fields, neat rows of peanut plants and purple grapes hanging from vines that made the sandwich possible. And the chocolate milk to wash down lunch? That comes from brown cows, right?
Unless children grow up on a farm or ranch and have seen someone milk a cow, shear a sheep or harvest a crop, they may not know that cotton comes from a plant, pecans come from trees and wool comes from sheep.
Kids, Cows and More, a program that started 12 years ago, now reaches about 30,000 students each year in New Mexico and Texas, helping young people understand the role of agriculture in their daily lives.
"This program gives them firsthand experience of where their food comes from, where their clothes come from," says Catherine Rogers Kuchan, Colfax County 4-H agent for New Mexico State University's Cooperative Extension Service. "It gives city kids a firsthand glimpse at an agricultural production world: where does it start and where does it end."
James Duffey, program director for the Chaves County Extension office, says some agricultural products go through an extensive production process before becoming available to the consumer. Cotton, for example, may be ginned, compressed, baled, inspected, graded, classed and stored before being marketed to a manufacturer. The process supports many jobs, and students are sometimes surprised to learn how many people make a living in agriculture.
Kids, Cows and More began in El Paso County in 1993 with the support of Southwest Dairy Farmers and El Paso dairymen who wanted to teach children about their industry. In 2001, a partnership with the Southwest Dairy Farmers and Extension programs in Texas and New Mexico was formed and began to expand the program in both states. Kids, Cows and More has spread to about a dozen New Mexico locations that reach about 10,000 students each year.
While the program follows a model that includes multiple presentations, such as the Mobile Dairy Classroom with a live cow and milking demonstration, the approach varies from county to county, emphasizing unique characteristics of each.
The Chaves County program April 19-21 will include presentations on bees and cotton; in Colfax County Oct. 11 and 12, water conservation and forestry will be discussed; and in Curry County April 14 and 15, a presentation that teaches children how to make peanut butter will highlight extensive peanut farming in the region.
"We like to reflect the agricultural commodities from each area," says Texas Extension Associate Alfred Gonzalez, who is the Kids, Cows and More project leader. "That allows us to bring in local people who relate well to the kids."
Extension agents include as many students as possible in their Kids, Cows and More events. In Chaves County, for example, students also will come from Artesia and Fort Sumner. The Curry County event reaches students from Roosevelt County and Parmer County, Texas. In Colfax County, students from one county in Colorado and six New Mexico counties will be invited.
Students also will attend Kids, Cows and More events this year in Doņa Ana County (April 5-6), Lea County (Oct. 25-26), Quay County (April 12), San Juan County (Oct. 18-20), Santa Fe County (April 8 and 28) and Valencia County (March 31-April 1). The Bernalillo County event was Feb. 24-25. The first Lincoln County event will be in 2006, and Gonzalez plans to bring events to McKinley and Sandoval counties. He also is working to develop Kids, Cows and More in Oklahoma.
Les Owen, Extension 4-H agent in Curry County, says children are often surprised by what they learn in the program.
"For example, they don't know peanuts grow underground. It's really an eye-opener to a lot of them," Owen says. "You get a lot of kids who still think chocolate milk comes from a brown cow."
Gonzalez says the need to educate children is as important as ever. "As soon as you hit that city limit sign, those kids are detached from agriculture. We believe if adults and children understand all that goes into the production of, say, milk or cotton, they'll get a greater appreciation of what it takes to provide that commodity."
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