Last Thursday I spent a relaxing, peaceful and quiet day at the Chico State University school farm...along with 412 third-graders. Well, it really wasn’t all that relaxing, peaceful and quiet but it was a reward-filled day.
The occasion was the 32nd Annual Farm City Celebration that embraces the greater Chico area each year at this time. I was part of several groups that gathered at the school farm to present an insight of agriculture to the youngsters who came from schools in Chico, Willows, Durham, Paradise and Oroville. While most of the presentations were inside and protected from the weather, I was outside on the lawn, which was a good thing since we were talking about farm water---where it comes from, how farmers use it and how it gets transferred from northern California all the way to San Diego.
Groups of third-graders arrived at my station every 14 minutes so that meant I had to do some quick talking to get my points across. Some people might think that keeping the attention of third-graders is only achieved inside a classroom but that was not the case. My opening question--- “What did you eat for breakfast this morning?” ---got all of the youngsters involved. The answers were as you might expect: eggs, toast, doughnut, oatmeal, pizza (oh, yeah...several of the kids enjoyed this leftover from the night before) and cereal.
Their answer of cereal enabled me to bridge to my next series of questions about milk...do you pour it on your cereal? Do you drink it? Where does it come from? What does the cow need to produce milk? Once we determined that a cow needs food and water, I then poured an 8-ounce glass of milk and asked how many gallons it takes to make the glass of milk? I also had an empty 3-gallon bottle of water on a display table that I told them was a hint.
Their answers began with 1 gallon; then 2 gallons; then 3 gallons. Finally I got them to think bigger and other than the occasional 50,000-gallon answer, they eventually got to the answer of 48 gallons. To respond to their amazement and the puzzled looks from the adults in the back of the group, I explained that water is needed for the pasteurization process and that cows drink lots of water...one student even backed me up by proclaiming, “of course they drink lots of water, they have more than one stomach!” But the eye-opening answer as to why so much water is needed came as I explained that the feed the students had already identified as necessary for the cow to make milk required water to grow and that was part of the water formula.
I then asked who in the group liked guacamole (not one of my favorites and I made it clear with facial expressions). At least half of each group would raise their hands and by this time the adults were also participating and holding up their hands. They knew that the green stuff is made with avocados but no one could point out on a map where avocados are grown. I explained to them that the majority of avocado acreage in California is concentrated in San Diego County.
I quickly went to the map and pointed out Lake Oroville, a popular site for the students to enjoy “swimming, fishing, boating and skipping rocks.” A few knew that a portion of the water that flows from the lake may end up in the ocean but that was about as far as they went in identifying how the water is used. When I traced my finger along the map from the lake and to the Sacramento River and then through the Delta and the California Aqueduct, they began to realize that water travels a long way in our state, used by farmers and cities along the way. I then explained it is pumped over the mountains into Southern California and some of the water from Lake Oroville is delivered all the way to San Diego and may be used to grow avocados for their guacamole. The connection was made.
All of the students thought it was a difficult task to move water from the north to the south and that they could not do it. And that’s where I had them for the final exercise.
I told them I thought they could move water and to prove my point, with the help of the adults, we shifted the students from the chairs and organized them in lines behind five buckets filled with water. Their challenge was to use small paper cups to dip into the water and race across the lawn to empty buckets about 20 feet away. It became a water relay race that the third-graders embraced with lots of noise and encouragement for their teammates.
As our 14-minute session came to a close, I asked them again how much water does it take to make 8-ounces of milk and everyone had the right answer. I then stressed to them to think about the next time they have a cheeseburger or carrots or whatever their moms place in front of them, to think about the water a farmer needs to grow their food.
Maybe it wasn’t a relaxing, peaceful and quiet day; but it was a day that I would not have wanted to miss.