As president of the Pinellas County Farm Bureau, Debby Laramee often visits elementary school classrooms talking about the importance of agriculture. Her audiences are usually made up of city dwellers who rarely see a farmer milking a cow or harvesting crops.
"When I go into the classroom, I usually start by saying, 'Okay, raise your hand if you're a farmer,' and of course, I don't expect to see many hands," Laramee said. "But then I say, 'Raise your hand if your family has grown tomatoes.' Hands immediately shoot up, and I remind the children that growing vegetables is farming."
On Saturday, Laramee will take her lesson plan a step further with the fourth annual Heritage Village Farm City Day, held in conjunction with National Farm City Week. The event is designed to showcase the importance of agriculture in daily life.
In previous years, organizers have concentrated on bringing in fruits and vegetables while setting up interactive lessons for children. However, this year the program will feature small farm animals brought in by 4-H members as well as local organizations like Country Day School of Largo. On hand will be chickens, goats, a miniature donkey, a miniature horse, rabbits and, perhaps the star of the show, a calf that children will be able to bottle-feed.
"The event is fun, but it's also about agriculture literacy,'' Laramee said. "For many, this will be the first time they'll get a chance to see farm animals close up.''
According to G.B. Crawford, director of public relations for the Florida Farm Bureau Federation, the state has about 47,500 working farms with farmers growing 300 types of farm products from fruits and vegetables to cattle to cotton.
"The roots of Farm City go back to 1955 when Kiwanis Club members across the country had the idea of Farm City Week to celebrate the relationship between farmers and nonfarmers,'' Crawford said. "The founders understood that farmers produce nutritious food but the nonfarmers help distribute and process what they grow for all of us. The mutual relationship between the two groups creates good health and economic strength.''
Along with the farm animals, visitors to Farm City Day will have a chance to create farm-inspired artwork, play old-fashioned games and take tours of Heritage Village's 27 historic structures.
"All of this is important because although it sounds cliche, many children today think only that their food comes from Publix. We're trying to connect children with not only the original source of their food but also the natural world.''
Piper Castillo can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 445-4163.