October 25, 2010

As five tractors powered up, they began to lead their attached hay wagons in different directions on Sigmon Farms in Rockcastle County. Excitement was in the air as the county’s fourth-graders whooped and cheered the drivers on. But the Sigmon Farm field trip was about much more than a fun hayride; it was the beginning of what organizers hope is a lifelong interest in where food comes from.

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“We’ve asked every load that has come through here today, and they just have no idea where pizza comes from – no idea where steaks come from,” said Bonnie Sigmon, whose father has hosted school children for the past 19 years on the family farm. “They think you just go the store and pick it up.”

But even after saying that, Sigmon admitted she’s seen worse. This year she estimated about 6 of 30 children in a group may have some knowledge of where their food comes from, but there have been times that zero kids on a wagon knew food origins.

“We’re getting better, and I think it’s because of the hard times people are going through,” she said. “People are growing gardens, and now some students are starting to at least associate gardens with the farm – they didn’t use to.”

Rockcastle County fourth-grade teachers used the trip as part of their curriculum and agreed many of the lessons kids learn on the farm, they can’t duplicate in the classroom.

“I really enjoy this field trip because it’s very educational, and it’s right here in Rockcastle County,” said Emily Craig, teacher at Roundstone Elementary. “The students get to learn about life on the farm.”

Craig added that back in the classroom, she encourages students to discuss what they learned at the farm and to write about their experiences.

University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Agent for Agriculture and Natural Resources Tom Mills helped put on the field day through a Healthy Communities Grant from the local health department. The funds helped make each of the five tour stops more interactive. Students learned about the wide reach and use of corn, farm diversity, horticultural crops, seasonal crops like pumpkins and gourds, forest products and, at Mills’ stop, livestock.

“We wanted to relate each crop grown on the farm back to a commonly consumed food item so the kids would tie it all together,” he said. “A lot of them don’t realize we harvest animals for food.”

The event reached farther than Rockcastle County as representatives from Laurel and Knox County Cooperative Extension offices came to help out. Under a tent, students also visited with representatives of the Farm Service Agency, the U.S. Department of Agriculture Soil Conservation Service and the local hospital and health department. Every child took home a pumpkin or a gourd.