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KIDS HAVE REAL FIELD DAY WITH ANIMALS

The point of the experience was to teach the students that just because hamburgers include the word ham, they don't come from pigs.

As many as 1,500 second- and third-graders from a dozen local schools gained new appreciation for the valley's agricultural heritage in the second annual Agriculture in the Classroom Field Day Wednesday. For many of them, it was their first face-to-face exposure to farm animals."Oh, how cute!" Candace Peterson said after she found out that baby mink are often the size of a pinky finger. Peterson and others in Emily Lysager's Forbes Elementary group from American Fork had an expert among them - Greg Gammon, whose grandparents, Rulon and Venice Gammon, were playing host to the students on their Vineyard dairy farm, 86 W. Gammon Road.

"She was hot before, I'll bet. But she's cool now. It's almost like getting a haircut," Greg Gammon explained to his fellow classmates as Payson High School teacher Nyle Russell sheared a black-faced ewe. Russell and 35 of his Future Farmers of America students served as tour guides for the 7-, 8- and 9-year-olds.

Local agricultural groups - including the Utah Woolgrowers Association, Western Dairymen Cooperative Inc., the Utah Beef Council, the Utah County Farm Bureau and Utah State University Extension Services - sponsored the event and provided nearly a dozen agricultural demonstrations on the farm.

The agricultural "stations" - which featured demonstrations and displays on the production of beef, pork, wool, fruit, poultry and fur and a lecture the U.S. Soil Conservation Service - were designed to heighten the youngsters' awareness of the importance agriculture has in their lives, said Debra Spiel-maker, who coordinates similar events throughout the state for Utah State University Extension Services. Spielmaker created lesson plans for many of the classes, as well as pre- and post-tour tests to quiz students about the experience.

"Without programs like this one, kids just don't understand - they think farms are just farms," Spielmaker said. "They don't understand the whole agricultural experience and don't realize that the clothes they wear, the milk they drink and the food they eat come from these animals."

Two- or three-day events like the Utah County field day have been held in Salt Lake, Cache and Davis counties, and in some circumstances, the farms come to the students rather than vice versa.

"This is a great program. We're actually giving some of these classes part of their core curriculum," she said. "This isn't just having the students run by and pet the animals."

Wayne Urie, central Utah regional manager for the Utah Farm Bureau Federation, agreed, saying that he and other Farm Bureau officials consider their partial funding for the program to be money well spent.

"This is one of the most important things we can do to increase agricultural awareness in both the students and the teachers," Urie said.

At times, Lysager - who grew up near the Gammon farm - had a few problems controlling some of her students' excitement, especially when they got the chance to feed some of the animals.

According to the tour guides, they, as well as the animals, learned almost as much as the students did.

"The most embarrassing thing they've asked us is, `Where does the egg come from?' " Sally Brown said. "And of course, we're not supposed to tell them that."

An equal number of students, which also included some home-school pupils, was expected at the event Thursday. Those who attended the two-day event received free samples of beef, pork, fruit and dairy products, including a free ice cream sandwich.