Farm City Day recognized at the state level

Twenty counties were recognized this month by the Ohio Farm Bureau for offering outstanding programming. Among those was Washington County, honored for its Farm City Day, which takes local fifth-graders to a farm for a day to learn what goes on there.

The event is in its 22nd year, said coordinator Katie Marks, an education specialist for the Washington Soil and Water Conservation District.

Question: What is Farm City Day, for those who aren’t familiar with it?

Answer: It’s an event that was started by the Washington Soil and Water Conservation District for fifth-grade students in Washington County. It’s an educational event to promote agriculture and have them make connections between farm to fork. It lets students know what it really takes to get clothes and food.

Q: We live in a pretty rural area. Are there are lot of students who don’t have an understanding about agriculture?

A: Absolutely. You’d be very surprised. We invite all the fifth-graders but our main target is Belpre and Marietta because it’s a little more urbanized.

Q: Has the event changed much over the years?

A: It used to be a one-day event but there’s been such an interest that we changed it to two days. Last time, with students and volunteers, we had 700 people.

Q: Does the location vary?

A: Since I started coordinating, and this is my fourth year, we’ve been at the Schramm Dairy Farm (near Reno) and it was there for several years before that. I know we’ve been at the Campbell farm and the Biehl’s and some others. We’ve rotated around the county.

Q: What kind of reaction do you see from the students as they spend time on the farm?

A: They’ve been told to wear older clothes and shoes but some don’t. A lot of times when they first get off the bus, they start out tiptoeing. They don’t want to get dirty. By the end of the day, they’ve acclimated themselves to the environment and they’re having a blast.

As part of the follow-up we do an essay contest where they write about what they learned and what they hadn’t expected. They’re a lot of fun to read. Some say they thought farmers were dirty and they learned what goes into making life possible for the rest of us.

Q: How is the event funded?

A: We get donations from community members. The farm itself is opened up to the kids at no charge. The only real cost is the T-shirts we order for all participants. We have water that’s donated and the kids bring their own lunch. The schools are responsible for busing.

Q: What do you hope the students really get out of the experience?

A: Tolerance, maybe. Tolerance and awareness.

Q: Has the event received this award before?

A: No. The Farm Bureau has been a great supporter and given a lot of funding. Now we’ve grown the event so that it received recognition at the state level. It’s very exciting. A lot of work goes into the planning and to see the hard work we do, and all the volunteers and the landowners all come together is a nice reward.

Q: Have you ever had trouble finding farmers who want to participate?

A: We’ve had to turn away people. The common goal is to teach and promote agriculture so everybody jumps at the chance.

Q: Any goals for the event in the future?

A: It’s a pretty well-oiled machine now. One goal next year would be to invite Veritas Academy and some of the other private schools. We have right now all the public schools and the two Catholic schools but we could add more. Other than that, we want to keep going like we’ve been going.

Kate York conducted this interview.