HAGERSTOWN, Md. — Students at Pangborn School spent Monday learning about agriculture from their teachers, educators, farmers and state and local officials as part of the annual Maryland Homegrown School Lunch Week. The students were treated to many agricultural activities throughout the day, including a healthy lunch consisting of local fruits, vegetables and beef.
The morning began with local farmers and volunteers reading freshly donated agricultural books to each class and engaging them with a craft activity to underscore the importance of agriculture.
The FFA chapter from Clear Spring High School brought in chickens, rabbits, a goat, a calf and a miniature horse for the students to see up close and personal. In many cases, the children were able to see and pet a live farm animal for the first time.
A local farm equipment vendor provided a large tractor which was prominently displayed on the lawn.
Several public officials and ag representatives talked to the students about the importance of agriculture and how it affects their lives.
Maryland Secretary of Agriculture Buddy Hance told the students that learning about agriculture would help them make better decisions about what they eat. He presented the students with a proclamation from Gov. Martin O’Malley and kept them attuned as he read it by having the students shout “Where as” each time the words appeared in the document.
“We have all 24 jurisdictions in the state participating in getting local produce into their lunch menu,” Hance said. “It has been a wonderful program. We have a lot of fruit, peaches and apples this time of year. In the spring we have greens, strawberries and squash that match up with the school program. Our school system doesn’t quite match up with our growing season so we kind of catch the tail end of one and the beginning of another season.”
Julie Albowicz, a representative from the office of U.S. Sen. Barbara Milkulski, also presented several proclamations to the schools and officials on behalf of Mikulski.
“The program itself highlights what we do year-round,” said Jeffrey Proulx, the supervisor of food and nutrition services for Washington County Public Schools. “We have an established farm-to-food program and we are in orchard country, so it is easy to bring apples, peaches and pears into our program.
“Today is a great opportunity to highlight our agricultural roots as a county and the economic benefits that come from buying local. We are really excited to have this day,” he added.
Getting additional farmers into the program is one of the goals of the Maryland Department of Agriculture.
“We try to work together with the schools and the food facilities operations managers to get them linked up with farmers,” Hance said. “There are no extra regulations for farmers to sell to the schools, although we have a voluntary program that the vendors should go through to keep them aware of food safety on the farm.”
Lunch for the students included beef from Stonewall Angus Farm, apples and peaches from Rinehart Orchards, Bose pears from Lewis Orchards, and zucchini and squash from Houser produce. As the week continued, students had cheese from Palmyra Farm, as well as chicken, cantaloupe, green beans, peppers and tomatoes from local farms and produce suppliers.
FFA members from around the county brought animals to the event.
“I am with the Clear Spring FFA,” said Brian Yetter, a 17-year-old senior from Clear Spring High School. “We brought animals and are here to teach about farming, education and possible careers in agriculture. We brought a pony, a goat, a sheep, rabbits and chickens today. They will help the kids know where the food comes from.”
“I think that this is extremely important,” said Terry Baker, president of the Washington County Commissioners. “Especially here, kids need to know as much as they can about farming and farming activities within our community.”
In the afternoon, kindergarten classes at Pangborn took a field trip to Misty Meadows Farm and Creamery, which is operated by the Herbst family.
“These kids are going to take a ride on the wagon and see crops, pasture, rotational grazing and cover crops growing,” said David Herbst. “They will see where the cows live, lay and eat. They will see where we milk them, our grain handling facilities and where the heifers and calves live.
“Back at the creamery there is a great big window where they can watch us process the milk, jug it and make the ice cream. Then they will go up to see the sheep, donkey, horse, pigs and calf, and go through the corn maze and our pumpkin patch,” he added.
“Agriculture is the No. 1 business in Washington County,” said Washington County Commissioner John Barr. “We have the most dairy farms per county in the state of Maryland, so this is a very important program for the students.”
“The most important thing is that children need to understand where there food comes from and it is not the grocery store,” said Leslie Hart, agriculture business development specialist for the Hagerstown-Washington County Economic Development Commission. “This is very exciting for us.”