VALLEJO — The little yellow chicks peeped under the heat lamp as Mia Whitman gently put out her hand to touch the soft down that covered the babies.
“They’re so cute,” said Mia, 8, a third-grader from Suisun Elementary School. “I’d love to have one.”
Crowded up front with Mia were her friends, Whitney Jefferson, 8, and Tianna Sanderson, 9. Another dozen or so third-graders jockeyed for position behind them, trying to see the chicks at the 11th annual Ag Day at the Solano County Fairgrounds.
The day is a collaborative effort between the Solano County Fair Association and various county agricultural entities such as businesses, organizations, ranchers and farmers. It gives area third-graders the ability to learn about agriculture in the county – everything from plants and bugs to livestock.
About 2,700 children attended this year, moving from one learning station to another spread out around the fairgrounds. Classes from every district in the county attended this year, said Debbie Egidio, the marketing director for the fairgrounds. Also in attendance were numerous home-schooled children.
Solano County 4-H members and other volunteers, such as the Master Gardeners, displayed exhibits showing participants, through various hands-on activities, about growing plants, branding livestock, roping and a variety of animals such as horses, cattle, goats, sheep and llamas.
“I love showing my animals and I like to show the kids different animals besides (the) dogs and cats they see every day,” said volunteer Sara Meier, 17, who is from the Vaca Valley 4-H Club and is a student at Vacaville High School.
She was sitting with her friend, fellow Vaca Valley 4-H member Kylie Walker, a Vanden High School student, showing off “Ducky,” a personable mallard/Rouen cross that didn’t seem to mind the numerous hands reaching out to touch her.
Ducky belongs to Meier but after a tragic mishap with her ducks, Walker, who’s been volunteering at Ag Day for five years, ended up using Ducky to teach children about ducks. Dozens of youngsters stopped and asked a wide variety of questions. Many, in past years, couldn’t identify the various animals she’s exhibited, Walker said.
“(This year) some actually know what they are,” she said.
Not too far away from the livestock barn, an almond shaker took hold of a tree trunk and shook not only the tree but the ground as it demonstrated how almonds are removed from trees during harvest. Nearby, sheepdogs demonstrated how they herd sheep as dozens of children watched from the bleachers.
Children from Hemlock Elementary School in Vacaville got an extra lesson in sheep herding when a few sheep escaped the enclosure, said parent volunteer Laura Orellana, whose son attends the Vacaville school.
“It was very exciting,” she said, laughing.
The children, she said, are “just having a blast.”
In order to defray the transportation costs from cash-strapped county school districts, the event offers funding for school bus transportation if requested. The donated money comes from a variety of sources, such as individuals and services clubs, Egidio said. She said that bus costs to and from the event averages about $500. Enough money was collected this year to sponsor 36 buses at 31 schools.
A lot of the children wouldn’t be able to come if the buses weren’t subsidized, said Michael Paluszak, the general manager of the fairgrounds. He said money just isn’t always there for field trips anymore.
Anyone interested in being a bus sponsor for next year’s Ag Day can call send an email to [email protected] or call 551-2002.
Reach Susan Winlow at 427-6955 or [email protected] Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/swinlowdr.