Erica Earley shows off a duck to students crowded around her. More traditional farm animals were also on display outside the Rochester school.  SUBMITTED PHOTOS
Erica Earley shows off a duck to students crowded around her. More traditional farm animals were also on display outside the Rochester school. SUBMITTED PHOTOS
It started with tacos, which led to lettuce, milk, livestock and even ducks as urban students learned more about agriculture thanks to local FFA members.

"We based the day off a taco...we taught them about the parts of a taco because that's what they had for lunch that day," explained Spring Valley-Wykoff FFA member Valerie Earley, speaking of the curriculum that she, Kayla Mulhern and Jackie Apenhorst presented to more than 700 early childhood family education (ECFE) through fifth grade students at Sunset Terrace Elementary School in Rochester on Wednesday, May 8. The presentation was part of the FFA's urban ag literacy program, in which the FFA students brought the farm to the city and shared how produce and milk get from the country to people's plates and glasses.

The project, which the FFAers had been working on since Christmas break, featured two 45-minute sessions - one indoors and one outdoors - that allowed the students to hear the truth about lettuce's origins and to meet calves, sheep, a steer and heifer, chicks and some wily ducks, and to see a tractor's gears up close. Indoors, they got to make keychains from livestock identification ear tags, and Mulhern, Apenhorst and Earley compared the ear tags to earrings to make them a more familiar item, going on to give a puppet show on how milk doesn't really come from the grocery store in a plastic carton - it actually comes from a cow on a farm, is processed and then placed in the plastic carton and bought by families to enjoy at home.

Though the FFA members are accustomed to answering questions about livestock, they were tickled by some of the reactions they witnessed and questions they were asked during the ag literacy project. Mulhern and Apenhorst commented that the students thought it was funny how big the steer and heifer were in comparison to the calves, even though they were only a year old.

"It was funny when they asked questions about the animals," said Mulhern. "My calf is kind of spunky, and when I told them to stick their fingers in its mouth, they thought it was funny when the calf sucked on them."

The biggest scramble for answers came when the ducks got out of their outdoor enclosure and the FFAers had to round them all up and count to be sure nobody in the neighborhood would be cited for harboring unwelcome waddlers.

"It got to be a busy day, but everybody was excited to be there," said Earley. The trio added that the youngsters thought it was the coolest that they live on farms and that they get to see animals every day of the week.

"The coolest part for me was how excited the kids were, and when we asked them questions inside, they knew everything," said Mulhern.

The ag literacy project came about after Earley attended state officer training and met people from chapters associated with the Morris, Minn., FFA chapter. That group brings ag literacy to the state fair each year and also has garnered support of numerous surrounding districts' chapters in an annual ag literacy gathering at the Morris school - students from neighboring districts are invited to participate in the Morris FFA's program.

The Spring Valley-Wykoff FFAers hope to someday expand its ag literacy project "if someone is willing to do it" and match that district's endeavors so that children know the difference between a potato from the ground and dehydrated spuds from a box, or that while ducks in stories generally stay in line behind their mothers, the real ones sometimes get away.

The event was sponsored by the FFA and numerous area businesses, including Sunshine Foods, Thompson Motors, Herman's Repair in Fountain, SEMA Equipment, All-American Feeds and local farm bureaus, and the FFAers thanked everyone for their support, noting that 43 helpers from different FFA chapters - Lanesboro, Goodhue, John Marshall, Stewartville, Hayfield, Triton and Zumbrota-Mazeppa - lent a hand in making the urban ag literacy project a taco-based reality.