BRANDON — The third-graders cried out more than a few times during Yancey Ray's talk Wednesday about cattle by-products, as his Brahma bull, General Lee, stood on display behind him.
Practically each product he mentioned drew a loud "Eeewww.''
"I can't believe I put that in my mouth!'' screamed one.
"Good thing I hate Jell-O,'' another piped in.
The crash course on farm life is part of Ag-Venture week at Florida State Fairgrounds, when third-graders from throughout Hillsborough County learn about where food and other goods come from.
"The kids just love it,'' said Vina Jean Banks, director of agribusiness at the fairgrounds. "If it wasn't good, we wouldn't have a waiting list.''
About 6,000 students each year go through the Ag Venture program, which has been going on for more than 20 years. The Hillsborough County Farm Bureau and Hillsborough County Cooperative Extension Service also sponsor the event.
Wednesday, some 450 students from six schools took tours. Some learned about beekeeping and the state's aquaculture business. Others, including this group from Central Baptist Christian School in Brandon, heard about strawberry farming and dairy cattle.
They made butter by jostling containers of heavy cream to the beat of Shake Your Booty.
"Shake, shake, shake. Shake, shake, shake. Shake your butter,'' they sang.
They tasted strawberry shortcake made with Twinkies and made crude pizzas using English muffin halves, tomato sauce, grated cheese and seasonings.
They sat enraptured as an animated strawberry on a video screen explained the growth cycle of the fruit, cheery background voices singing, "It's not to irritate you; he's trying to irrigate you.'' They also liked the cartoon on the history of pizza. But the real-life dairy industry film made them fidget.
General Lee stole the show.
"Where does he go to the restroom?'' a girl asked.
"That was a bad question to ask,'' a boy rebuked.
The bull's owner pointed to the pen. "Right there,'' said Ray. At one point, the General demonstrated.
The big animal both impressed and repelled 9-year-old Malik Cruz.
"I think it was pretty cool, but kind of gross,'' he decided. How so? "Let's just say I saw it do some pretty gross stuff.''
Semira Gebreslassie was surprised that cattle by-products are used in toothpaste.
"I thought that was weird,'' she said.
Her classmate, Jordan Masci, was more emphatic:
"I thought it was disgusting.''
Philip Morgan can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 226-3435.