Johnny Morgan | 7/19/2016 7:38:13 PM
An idea born 15 years ago has become a bi-annual teaching tool that shows students how food gets from the farm to their table.
Twice a year, the Fast Food Farm in St. James Parish prepares for nearly 1,000 area students to tour the facility and take home a message that will last a lifetime.
Denise Hymel, executive director of Fast Food Farm Inc., took an idea she got from a pizza garden in California and presented it to family and friends in St. James Parish. That started the process that led to Fast Food Farm.
“I came back from that American Farm Bureau meeting determined to do something to help the children under-stand the importance of agriculture and to recognize where their food comes from,” Hymel said.
LSU AgCenter agent Ken Guidry said the site hosts two Ag Days each year for kindergarten through fourth-grade students. “Each fall, we bring about 900 Pre-K to second-grade students to the farm. And in the spring, we have a similar number of third- and fourth-grade students,” he said.
“It’s not that we promote fast food, but we want the kids to know where that fast food comes from,” Hymel said.
The Ag Days and other events at Fast Food Farm are a collaborative effort among the Fast Food Farm board of directors, corporate sponsor Mosaic Louisiana, the St. James Public School System, St. James extension, parish 4-H Clubs, students at the St. James Career and Technology Center and other local business and industry.
“The Fast Food Farm has been developed into an outdoor classroom to teach young people about their favorite fast foods, as well as all food and how it makes its way to the table,” Guidry said.
The farm is a hands-on, whole body experience for the youth to learn about foods, nutrition, science, math and a host of other important subject areas, he said. The all-volunteer work force plans and hosts these events, and each Ag Day has in excess of 150 volunteers giving at least eight hours of service.
St. James 4-H’ers and students in the ProStart culinary program and agriculture science serve as peer teachers for each of the Ag Day stations. Adult and youth volunteers set up all equipment along with teaching or assisting at each station, he said.
“Ag Day is funded by grants provided to the Fast Food Farm,” AgCenter 4-H agent Tara Roussel said. “And this year we have a number of businesses and industries that are providing volunteers to help us make it a success.”
The goal for the event is twofold, according to Roussel. “First, we want to teach the kids where their food comes from because some of them believe it comes from the grocery store,” she said. “We also are teaching leadership skills to students in seventh through 12th grade, who are actually leading these activities – being peer teachers.”
For her efforts in developing the Fast Food Farm and the St. James Parish Ag Day, Hymel will be travelling to Phoenix in June to receive the Ag in the Classroom Ag Advocate Award.
Johnny Morgan is a specialist in LSU AgCenter Communications.
St. James Parish third- and fourth-grade students learn how to grow herbs during the St. James Ag Day in Gramercy on April 21. The event is held each spring and fall to teach students where their food comes from. Development of the Fast Food Farm began more than 15 years ago. Photo by Johnny Morgan