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Santa Fe Fourth-Graders Sample Agriculture at Kids, Cows and More

SANTA FE - Kearney Elementary fourth-grader Jackie Gordon likes milk but never knew how it got from cow to store until she watched a live milking demonstration during Kids, Cows and More at the Santa Fe County Fairgrounds.

Cody Lightfoot de la Asociación de Lecheros del Suroeste enseña a niños de cuarto grado de la escuela primaria Carlos Gilbert cómo ordeñar y procesar la leche con una maquina ordeñadora móvil en el evento Niños, Vacas y Más en el campo de la feria municipal en Santa Fé. Unos 900 niños de 16 escuelas públicas de Santa Fé participaron en el evento. (05/09/2003) (NMSU Agricultural Communications Photo by Kevin Robinson-Avila)

"They showed us how they milk a cow with a machine and how they pasteurize it," said Gordon, 10, while sipping chocolate milk distributed at the event. "They heat the milk to a really high temperature to kill germs that can harm people and then they cool it down so you can drink it. That's what I learned today."

About 900 fourth-graders from 16 Santa Fe public schools attended the event in April, the first time Kids, Cows and More has come to Santa Fe. The program, organized by New Mexico State University's Cooperative Extension Service in partnership with Texas A&M University and Southwest Dairy Farmers, teaches schoolchildren where their food and fiber comes from through fun, hands-on activities.

"Everything in our lives depends on agriculture, from the cars we drive to the food we eat and the clothes we wear, but most youth today know nothing about it," said Christy Bramwell, 4-H agent with the Santa Fe County Extension office. "Kids generally just see Disney cartoon animals on television, so this an opportunity for them to learn about the real circle of life through direct experience."

The program began in El Paso in 1990 and expanded to New Mexico in 1999 with a pilot program in Albuquerque. This year, Kids, Cows and More will take place in 10 cities and towns around the state, benefiting about 10,000 children, said program founder Alfred Gonzales, an Extension associate with NMSU and Texas A&M.

Teachers said the program helped bring classroom learning to life for students. "They actually saw a cow being milked and they touched the wool of a sheep," said Nancy Taranto, a fourth-grade teacher at Kearney. "It's that real-life experience that makes it all come together and cement what they learn in school."

At the Santa Fe event, students attended a workshop on ranching and beef production that featured a live steer. They munched on dehydrated apple slices after hearing about apple orchards, vegetable production and the food guide pyramid. They learned about bees, honey and pollination while viewing a hive of bees, and they cuddled pigs, sheep, rabbits and other animals in a petting zoo set up by members of the New Mexico Boys and Girls Ranch.

The "More" portion of the program taught students about water supply, quality and conservation. "I learned about using gray water to save good water," said nine-year-old Santana Holmes of Carlos Gilbert Elementary. "That's water you already used, like when you wash the dishes or your hands, but not toilet water."

Dottie Mullins, another Kearney teacher, said the program is especially good for Santa Fe youth. "These are city kids who don't know a lot about agriculture," she said. "They see it all the time as they drive around the area, but it doesn't mean a lot to them until they get an experience like this."

For most kids, however, it was basically a fun day with animals. "I saw cows, horses and chickens," said Beverly Alderete, 10. "I liked the rabbits best, because they're so soft. They're like little teddy bears."