Agriculture was the lesson of the day at the Great AGventure.
More than 1,200 fourth-graders from 22 different San Luis Obispo County schools poured into the Paso Robles Event Center Wednesday morning for a free to the schools hands-on learning experience that is unmatched in the region.
“I had someone tell me today that this is the best kept secret in the county that shouldn’t be a secret,” said Kimberly Bradley, executive director of the San Luis Obispo County Agricultural Education Committee. Kimberly is the wife of Michael Bradley, who is president and CEO of the California Mid-State Fair.
“It’s just been awesome. We couldn’t ask for better participation,” she added as students filed out to their buses around noon.
The Great AGventure is in its 16th year and its 45 volunteer presenters were stationed across the entire grounds.
Bradley said in addition to the one-day event a packet goes out to the teachers with lesson plans about a month ahead of the event. They also receive the Farm Bureau’s “What’s Growing On” educational publication.
“The best thing is all of the ag commodities you see here is San Luis Obispo County,” Bradley said. “We have the top 10 ag commodities in San Luis Obispo represented here. So they learn more about their county. It’s not just the grapes, there is a whole lot more.”
Tommy Harris of Harris Stage Lines held court in the main grandstand in the middle of the Event Center. He had two draft horses with him and explained their role on the farm throughout history and the special horseshoes and harnesses they wear.
Nextdoor in the Hearst Equestrian Arena students sat in the bleachers and watched as three border collies, obeying the whistle commands of Ryan Pascoe, head cowboy for Hearst Ranch in Cambria, rounded up cattle. Helping Pascoe during the presentation was his wife, Michelle, and two daughters, Reagan, 9, and Emery, 7.
A little north of the arena, Joe Sabol walked students, in this instance Pleasant Valley fourth-graders, through the ins and outs of tree grafting, specifically apple stock.
“Grafting is magic,” Sabol said. “I’m going to show you how to make a clone of another apple.”
But before that he pulled out his weathered and worn book of apples to show them the apple he was trying to graft. He explained it was the ugliest apple and judging by their contorted faces the students were in agreement.
“It’s called the knobbed russet, looks just like a potato, but tastes like vanilla ice cream mixed with a Snickers bar,” Sabol said.
Sabol is a member of the Central Coast chapter of California Rare Fruit Growers.
“The kids have been good today,” he said. “And good questions.”
Each of the 45 classes enrolled to participate were escorted through an arena event and five additional 20-minute presentations presented by professional industry volunteers who are involved in various aspects of agriculture. Farm equipment, animals, crops, science and an “AG-tivity” were presented to each class.
One of the chaperones with Vineyard Elementary in Templeton said she was blown away by everything that was being done at the Great AGventure.
Paso Robles FFA helped kids learn to lasso. Senior MJ Solorio gave high-fives of encouragement to his group of three from Kermit King Elementary in Paso Robles and said, “It was pretty fun teaching the kids.”
Another interactive activity had students pulling a weighted sled for a short distance. Each team was timed and the data was converted to horsepower. Leading the horsepower station was Cal Poly’s Tractor Pull Club, complete with their 1,500 horsepower competitive tractor “Mustang Legacy” on display.
Classes watched as farriers Travis Baker and Tim Stone, of Travis Baker Farrier Service of Morro Bay, used their equipment to form a horseshoe and then put it on a horse.
“It was awesome,” Baker said. “The kids were interested and receptive. I think they got it.”
The Great AGventure is one of the major events of the San Luis Obispo County Agricultural Education Committee. A similar event is held each spring in the South County on a much smaller scale at Arroyo Grande High School.
The Great AGventure is made possible by the Harold J. Miossi Charitable Trust, making the entire program free to local schools, including transportation costs.
Additional sponsors include the San Luis Obispo Co. Cattlemen and CattleWomen’s Associations, the Paso Robles Chamber Agri-Business Committee, San Luis Obispo Co. Chapter of California Women for Agriculture, Umpqua Bank, Paso Robles Events Center and San Luis Obispo County Farm Bureau.
Nearly 20,000 students have gone through this program in the past 16 years. The program’s emphasis is to demonstrate the importance of agriculture in everyone’s life and to develop an understanding about the county’s vital agricultural industry.
“It’s a great event,” Bradley said. “The teachers love it. They want it. It’s all volunteers. We are really blessed. It’s a win-win all the way around.”