af staff |stony plain
What do cows eat? And how come you can’t see potatoes growing on a potato plant?
Those are just the sorts of questions that kids love to ask, and organizers of the City Slickers farm-education program love to hear.
“It’s all about the producer,” said Jeannine Clouthier. “It’s a big part of education and about learning what is real.”
Clouthier is a Grade 4 teacher at Holy Cross Academie International and is married to a dairy farmer outside of Stony Plain. She has taken her class to the event, run in part by volunteers from the Stony Plain Multicultural Centre, for two years.
This fall, the program – now in its 12th year – brought 900 city slicker kids from Edmonton, and the suburbs of St. Albert, Spruce Grove and Stony Plain to Parkland County farms.
Children in Grades 4 and 5 visit one of four area farms, and then take in several of the 21 agricultural display stations set up inside the Multicultural Society pavilion. Registration for the program takes place in June, and the spots always fill up quickly, said Judy Bennett, one of the event’s co-organizers. She said the program has changed over the past few years to focus more on Alberta foods and farm products.
“We’re trying to say to the kids that good, well-balanced food comes from Alberta,” said Bennett.
Bennett believes children from both rural and urban communities need to learn more about where their food comes from. Clouthier said that’s exactly what happens. Her class will discuss farming and food both before and after their visit, and she believes the farm visits also spark discussions between parents and children.
Clouthier’s class visited Spruce Farm dairy in Parkland County. The tour was conducted by Gilbert Jespersen, who talked about what cows eat, how they are fed, manure recycling, and milking. They also learned about potato farming, grain farming, sheep herding with stock dogs, and participated in a mock auction.
The event relies heavily on the efforts of 150 volunteers, along with sponsorship and support from area partners. Jespersen said he participates because with every generation becoming more distant from the farm, kids need to be exposed to food production.
After touring Jespersen’s dairy, the class watched a combine harvest a field of wheat, then took in presentations by producers from Alberta Honey and Alberta Chicken.
Angelika Petersen, one of the volunteers accompanying the group, has been with the program for two years and thinks exposing the students to farming could affect their future.
“You never know, one of these kids might want to grow up to be a farmer,” she said. “They might find something they really like and want to do it as a living.”