Pizza comes from a box and clothes come from the store, right?
For a group of elementary school children, pizza and other common items were demystified last week at the Tonto Natural Resource Conservation District’s (NRCD) Agriculture field day held in Tonto Basin.
Lori Brown, who hosted the event at her farm, the H-4 Ranch, said many children have no idea what it takes to produce a frozen pizza. From the cattle, to the farmer and every step in between, it takes more than a microwave to make a tasty meal.
“A lot of kids don’t realize how it got to that point — the food chain,” Brown said. “They aren’t taught that in school.”
Ag day offered about 400 students — fourth-graders from Globe and Miami and elementary students from Payson, Tonto Basin and Young — the opportunity to learn about how a ranch and farm are operated, where food comes from and even brand a calf or two.
However, when most children stepped off the school bus at the massive H-4 Ranch, they had little idea how to milk a cow, much less rope a steer.
John Dryer, vice-chair of the NRCD, said it is always amazing to hear a child proclaim that hamburger comes from Bashas’ and shoes come from the shoe store.
The goal of Ag day, he said, is to educate students about the steps it takes to get to the store, instill an appreciation for the resources involved and hopefully inspire them to take care of the land — all while having fun along the way.
Not only did students get to take a hayride through the farm, pet a few miniature mammals, brand a sign and sheer a sheep, they participated in a stick horse rodeo.
The fun of Ag day was prefaced with several days of classroom instruction to get the students ready for what they would see on their day at the ranch.
Johnny Ketchem, principal of Tonto Basin Elementary School said he was blown away by the organization and thoroughness of the event.
“I have been in education for more than 40 years and I have never experienced an event for children of the magnitude of your event,” Ketchem said. “The pre-workshops you held with the students the week prior to the field event was one of the things that made it so dynamic.”
Brown introduced students to the working concepts of a farm and ranch while Lani Hall discussed the biology of cells, Johnna Kile discussed cotton and Lori Lee Connolly talked about ranching.
Brown told students that of the 19,000 acres her farm covers, 15,000 are usable, with 135 cows roaming four pastures. The ranch covers upper and lower Slate Creek, Cottonwood and Cane Springs in the Tonto Basin district.
Brown and her husband Bill lease the land from the U.S. Forest Service, agreeing to maintain the land and keep it fenced. The Browns have owned the ranch since 1969 and in that time have brought back farming hay with draft horses — a tradition long forgotten on most farms that utilize modern machinery to get the job done quicker.
Brown explained to the students they work very closely with the Forest Service to keep the ranch operational.
The Browns are charged with developing local springs, trail maintenance and repairing windmills, storage tanks and pipelines on their property.
Each day, the Brown’s ride the fences, checking the cows and making sure the gates are closed. They check waterlines, get cows ready for sale and brand and earmark calves.
One of the most important, but overlooked duties is record keeping.
Brown said she stresses this point so students realize they need a good education even if they plan on working in the fields.
After classroom instruction, each school took turns sending students to the H-4 Ranch last week.
On Tuesday and Wednesday, Globe and Miami fourth-graders were bussed in.
A staff of 20-25 brought students through various stations, each with an educational element.
At the calf branding station, students watched and helped. Although it can be scary to watch, Brown explained branding a calf is like burning your hair with a curling iron.
“Branding helps tell whom they belong to,” she said.
Students also helped with administering shots.
At the petting zoo, posters displayed what each animal is used for, what parts are eaten and what parts have other uses. For example, pig heart valves are used in humans and other parts of a pig are used to make ink.
“All the things you don’t really realize an animal is used for,” Brown said.
After all the fun on the ranch, students ate pit beef barbecue cooked by Carole Fausett.
Ag day was started last year after Brown joined the NRDC. After she joined, Chair Tommie Martin put Brown in charge of education. After brainstorming with family and friends, Brown said they came up with the idea of using the ranch as an educational tool.
“It turned out to be a great thing,” she said.
Ketchem said the volunteers’ information and kindness made the day wonderful.
“It was one of the best, most organized events in the common cause of bringing real life into the field of education that I have witnessed,” he said. “Adults and students alike were amazed at the hard work, organization and dedication that it takes to run a successful farming and ranching operation.”
With a $15,000 grant from the Resource Advisory Committee (RAC), Brown plans to hold another Ag day for Payson and Pine students in May. Brown would like to see the program become an annual event, but it all hinges on maintaining funding.
“I really hope (the students) keep the experience deep in their hearts,” Brown said.