More than 1,200 school-age children sampled seasonal produce, petted animals and learned about life on farms and ranches at the 29th annual Marin Farm Day at the Marin Center Exhibit Hall in San Rafael on March 21.

The Cultivating Learning theme, presented by Marin agricultural and education organizations, provided hands-on activities, according to Marin Farm Day co-founder Lynn Bagley.

“Children participate in interactive displays on seed planting, nutrition games, spinning and weaving, gardening and environmental activities,” Bagley said.

Farm Day dates back to 1984, when budget cuts to education made rural field trips too expensive for most schools. Farmers, ranchers, 4-H Club members and Future Farmers of America all took part in the day’s activities, according to Bagley.

Bill Costanzo an agricultural teacher at Tomales High School came to Marin Farm Day along with four Tomales FFA students and a day-old dairy cow to promote Ag-awareness and to answer questions about animals and agriculture.

“For my kids it is kind of a public service event,” Costanzo said. “It gives them a chance to talk with the public about what FFA is and agriculture in general.”

Karen Taylor of Bivale Dairy in Pt. Reyes Station, one of the organizers of event, said there are a lot of kids teaching kids. Teachers check-in and get an information packet with a list of resources they can follow up with after they leave the event.

“It’s been great,” Taylor said. “We have had over 1,200 kids learning everything from fur and feathers to poultry to yard and textiles, too. We had lots of insects, horse groups, and dairy groups well represented today.”

Tyler Thayer, education program coordinator for Agricultural Institute of Marin, said he tries to empower children to make healthy food choices.

“It is about getting people excited about food again. Getting people to slow down and really appreciate it,” Thayer said while standing behind a table filled with seasonal fruits and vegetables. “The one thing in history that has brought people together is food.”

The AIM currently manages seven farmers markets in the Bay Area and represents more than 500 family farms, specialty food suppliers, and artisans.

Thayer also leads tours and scavenger hunts at the San Rafael Civic Center farmer’s markets. Children are sent into the market to learn to talk to farmers and learn about their food, Thayer said.

“It is also about using all of your sense to explore food, making healthy food choices and learning about seasonality,” Thayer said

Alexandra Matthews, Tamalpais 4-H community club leader, attended Farm Day to help educate kids about agriculture.

“It is amazing how many kids come by and do not know that eggs come from chickens,” Matthews said. “People are also in total denial that meat comes from cut up pigs and cows.”

Some 4-H Club members had to set the record straight about a number of other misconceptions.

“Someone thought bunnies laid eggs,” Tamalpais 4-H Club member Taylor Smith said. “People also thought that rabbits ate carrots, that they loved carrots and that’s all rabbits ate.”

Other groups also presented compost, backyard bee and butter making exhibits.

Contact Soren Hemmila at shemmila@marinscope.com.

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