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Manteca Unified school farm hosting host 4,000 third graders
Randy Beasley of Bonnie Plants talks to third graders about how to grow healthy vegetables during the October 2011 AgVenture field trip held at the Manteca Unified School Farm. - photo by ROSE ALBANO RISSO

The Manteca Unified school farm will play host this fall to nearly 4,000 third graders and more than 400 volunteers, the majority of whom are area students.

The event is the annual AgVenture program. The date is Wednesday, Nov. 7. The school district farm is located just behind the district office at West Louise Avenue, corner of Airport Way in Manteca.

“We will have 3,988 kids this time, and we’ll have over 400 volunteers,” said AgVenture Coordinator Janet Dyk who has been involved in this “farm to fork” and “farm to fridge” hands-on educational program for school children since its inception in 2007. A retired Manteca Unified employee and currently a Board of Education member for the San Joaquin County Office of Education, Dyk has been overseeing AgVenture since its maiden launch in 2008.

Manteca Unified third graders are not the only ones who will be taking part in this field trip, Dyk said. Students from St. Anthony of Padua School in Manteca, and St. Bernard’s Parochial School, as well as New Jerusalem, Banta and Jefferson school districts in Tracy will be coming as well to the school farm.  Escalon and Ripon third graders are expected to show up as well. The students from St. Anthony’s and St. Bernard’s will be picked up by Manteca Unified School buses.

“We asked Manteca Unified to transport St. Anthony’s and also St. Bernard’s. Kudos to them for doing that,” Dyk said of the transportation role that Manteca Unified leaders have willingly stepped up to do.

The size of the group that will be touring the school farm facility requires a lot of volunteer hands. About half of those volunteers are FFA students from all five high schools in Manteca, with some from Escalon, Dyk explained.

Besides helping route the student groups arriving at the school in the school buses, the FFA volunteers will also “doing presentations and some displays; they are coming up with their own displays” for their young audiences, added Dyk.

Dozens of agribusinesses and other ag-related businesses in the area will be at the field trip as well providing information to the third graders about a plethora of topics such as water, electricity, solar heating, fruits and vegetables, nuts, and different farming equipment. There will be several area farmers talking about tractors and other farming machinery, and about the different commodities in the valley.

“The most important message that the kids get (from the AgVenture field trip) is the fact that it’s important how and what commodities, fruits and vegetables are grown in San Joaquin County, and we encourage them to buy locally grown fruits and vegetable to get the freshest and the best that are grown here,” Dyk explained.

“They are our future consumers, so we want them to know what is raised here in the valley and that they don’t just come from the grocery shelves. We also want them to know the nutritional values of food, so they learn about nutrition – about soil and water to show how important it is to grow their fruits and vegetables and how healthy these foods are for them,” added Dyk.

The four-hour “Select San Joaquin’s AgVenture 2012” field trip will give the young students opportunities to “learn how crops are grown and processed, see and touch farm animals and equipment, find out first-hand how to make butter, discover what foods contribute to healthy diets and lifestyles, take a shot at roping a cow, and so much more,” stated San Joaquin County Agricultural Commissioner Scott Hudson in a letter to the Manteca Bulletin.

Students, teachers and parents also will have that opportunity to “ask questions and learn from farmers, ranchers and others who love agriculture,” Hudson added.

The Agventure field trips, which are held in different venues such as the San Joaquin County Fairgrounds, are provided to third graders in the county every year through the joint sponsorships of San Joaquin County, San Joaquin Farm Bureau, U.C. Cooperative Extension, United States Department of Agriculture, Office of Education, local schools, and Rancho San Miguel and Food 4 Less grocery store chains.

Dyk said AgVenture recently received a block grant of more than $200,000 from the California Department of Food and Agriculture.