By Johnny Morgan, LSU AgCenter
GRAMERCY, La. —Many people assume all rural youth have a good idea of where their food comes from, but observing third- and fourth-grade students at AgDay in St. James Parish on Oct. 18 easily debunks that theory.
AgDay, held each spring and fall at the Fast Food Farm in Gramercy has proven over and over the need to expose elementary students in the parish to agriculture.
Some students see sugarcane every day but don’t understand the process of getting the sugar from the field to their table.
Dennie Hymel, the executive director of the Fast Food Farm, said the very thought of children in her parish not knowing the origin of their food put her on a mission 12 years ago to develop the Fast Food Farm.
“I was in California at a meeting and saw a ‘pizza’ farm, and from there I knew we could do something like that here,” she said.
That’s when she started to work on establishing a nonprofit and discussing her plans with local school officials.
From that time, the Fast Food Farm has grown to include raised beds to display different crops, Mr. C’s Chicken Coop and a kids kitchen where students can prepare various dishes.
LSU AgCenter 4-H agent Ken Guidry said the event runs smoothly because of the volunteers who help him year after year.
“We have students from both high schools here acting as peer teachers and tour guides, and this makes a big difference,” he said.
Guidry said the AgDay event is held twice a year: in spring for kindergarteners through second-grade students, and in fall for third and fourth-grade students.
“One of the benefits to the older students is they will soon be taking tests in school on a lot of the things that go on in nature, and they are actually able to see it here. And we have hands-on activities for them to be involved with,” he said.
At more than 30 booths, the children are given the opportunity to learn about animals, aquaculture and plants.
Guidry said about 700 children from schools throughout St. James Parish attend the event, so it takes teamwork and organization to make the event a success.
“It takes about 200 volunteers to make the event run smoothly, which includes 150 high students and about 70 adults,” he said.
Bre’neye Winfield, a third-grader at Lutcher Elementary, said she didn’t know much about agriculture before coming, but she learned about fruits, vegetables and protein while there.
Mary St. Pierre, Regions Bank branch team leader, said she volunteers to help out the community with teaching the students.
“We’re showing them what it takes to grow green beans,” she said. “We want them to see everything a plant needs to grow, like if it gets too much water it will rot and too much sun it will dry it out.”
AgDay is a collaborative effort of the Fast Food Farm board of directors, corporate sponsor Mosaic Louisiana operations, the St. James Public School System, 4-H Clubs of St. James, ProStart classes and agriculture classes at the Career and Technology Center, and other local businesses and industry partners.