Whether they were on the learning or teaching side of the table, it was a win-win learning experience for at the students Loudon County Farm Day on Friday at Sweetwater Valley Farm.
More than 500 Loudon County and Lenoir City fourth-graders made their way along hay and dirt covered paths as mother cows licked their newborns, pigs cooled off in a pan of water and sheep were sheared of their coats.
The goal? Loudon County University of Tennessee Extension Director and Agriculture Agent John Goddard said Loudon County 4-Hers, area agriculturalists and former 4-Hers who came back to volunteer hope children learn about agriculture's presence and importance in the county.
"Our idea is to teach them that food doesn't come from the grocery store. What we are doing right here is trying to explain how the babies are born. ... When they go to Kroger and they see corn or they see milk or they see a hamburger, they know where that comes from. That's actually grown here in Loudon County," Goddard said from the maternity ward exhibit.
Loudon County 4-H agent Amanda Brooks agrees it is especially beneficial for children living in a city environment.
"I just met with that one classroom, and there were four kids who had never set foot on a farm before," Brooks said. "We have an ability to make a huge impact by teaching them where their foods come from. I've been in several classrooms in Lenoir City and North Middle School, and the students literally told me that they thought their food was from the grocery store. That's really scary for farmers and for the future of our country because it takes farms to have food for our country."
Though the event was geared toward educating the fourth-graders, and hopefully snagging a few new 4-H recruits along the way, Brooks said Farm Day is a golden opportunity for the 4-H presenters and tour guides.
"They are getting public speaking, communication skills, leadership opportunities, and, you know what, our 4-Hers are very heavily involved in agriculture and therefore, especially our older 4-Hers, they do not understand that people in their own community have no idea what a farm event entails, what it means, what is done on a farm," Brooks said. "It's good for them to interact with kids who are from the city and learn how to spread the word about agriculture in a nice, friendly, fun way."
As her father explained the cow birthing process, former Loudon County 4-Her Greer Goddard stood in the wings of the maternity ward exhibit, waiting to pipe in with more explanations. Now as an employee at the University of Tennessee College of Veterinary Medicine, she comes back every year to sew her roots at Farm Day.
"4-H was a huge part of my life, so obviously I try to help out when I can," she said. "... Throughout middle school and high school, it helped me a lot. I mean, college, school, work, everything because it teaches you public speaking, how to do record books, you can do a speech in no time. So, it definitely helped me out and obviously influenced my career choice because I grew up around it," Goddard said. "If I didn't get into 4-H, I probably wouldn't be where I am today. I feel like I wouldn't be as prepared as I was for college."
Kevin Hensley, regional field director for Tennessee Farm Bureau and a former Loudon County 4-Her, said his appreciation for farmers grew because of his 4-H experience.
"Without 4-H being there, keeping me involved in agriculture, reminding me where our food comes from and the work these guys do every day, I got a real appreciation for what farmers do and we kind of all forget about it," Hensley said. "I knew I wanted to work for them, and without 4-H being there I wouldn't be where I'm at."
Highland Park Elementary Principal David Clinton said he believes Farm Day is a rare learning experience for students.
"Some of the things that they'll have in their classes the rest of the year they've experienced some of those things today," Clinton said.
"It's one of our highlights of the year," Clinton said. "Just like this right here, we got to see the first time a baby calf got up off the ground here. So, the experiences some of these kids see here today they will never have that opportunity again."
With painted pumpkins dried on their cheeks, Eaton Elementary students said they learned a lot about agriculture.
"I learned that soap comes from a sheep's hoof, nail stuff, whatever," Courtlyn Hill said. "I just thought that they made it from something. I didn't know what. I just knew that it would clean you."
Harley Dearing said she didn't know socks can be made from sheep's wool. Matthew Wright said he didn't know pigs make up many family favorite meals.
"They can give ham and bacon and stuff like that for people," Wright said.