Hundreds of Carroll County third-graders will come home from school on March 21 with jars of food and, farmers hope, a better understanding of where that food comes from.
To mark National Agriculture Day, 13 county elementary schools will watch local farmers and agricultural extension agents demonstrate how milk gets from farm to cereal bowl, or how a crop farm is the first step in the production of everything from bread to hamburgers to baseballs.
"My focus when I go to the classroom will be bread," said Jean Knill, information officer for the Carroll County Farm Bureau, which offered the program to Carroll County's 21 elementary schools, 13 of which accepted.
"From the farm, you get wheat. The wheat goes to the mill and it's ground into flour, and the flour goes to the bakery where it's baked into the bread that's used for sandwiches in the children's lunches," said Knill, whose family raises beef cattle and grows grain north of Mount Airy.
She and other farmers who talk about crop farming will give the children small jars of grain -- corn, soybeans, wheat and oats -- to take home.
Dairy farmers will show how cows eat grain and produce milk, which is then picked up by a truck and taken to a dairy. The dairy bottles it and sends it to retailers. The third-graders will get to pour heavy cream into a baby-food jar and shake it vigorously until it separates into butter and whey.
The presentations should each last about 45 minutes, Knill said, and are based on a national model offered by an agriculture-education group called Project Food, Land and People.
The farmers and others who go into the classroom will focus on showing a step-by-step process. Breaking down subjects and putting them in a sequence is a process third-graders use in other schoolwork, Knill said.
Dorothy Mangle, assistant superintendent for Carroll's public schools, said the Farm Bureau and other local agricultural organizations provide a needed link between agriculture and public education. Many farmers invite school groups to visit to see how big a cow is, she said.
"We like to think we live in the country, but you would be amazed to visit in schools and see that some children really don't know where milk comes from," Mangle said.
For third-graders, Mangle said, the Farm Bureau presentations will fit in with a theme in their social studies lessons on how different parts of a community interact.
"I think what they're offering is a really practical application of what our students are learning in the social studies curriculum about how things are interdependent," Mangle said.
For example, the steps in bringing agricultural products to consumers involves farmers, truck drivers, brokers, manufacturers, distributors and retailers.
"By the time our students get to third grade, they have an understanding of economics, of supply and demand," Mangle said.
Farmers who will go to local schools include Kathy Hoff and her daughter, Debbie, whose family owns a dairy farm in New Windsor; Donald and Sandra Essich, who raise beef cattle and grow crops near Westminster; Jim and Christy Steele, who raise racehorses near Winfield; and Bill and Mary Rasche, who grow crops near Taneytown.
Several educators from the Maryland Cooperative Extension will also go to some schools, as will Carroll County Dairy Princess Geena Rinehart of Taneytown, and Farm Queen Laura Fisher of Manchester.