UA program offers kids ‘Agriculture Disneyland’

By Emilie Eaton

January 29, 2014 - 4:24 pm
Kids from throughout the state come to the UA Maricopa Ag Center to dig in the dirt and get a grasp of the importance of farming. Victor Jimenez photo

Third in a four-part series on the business of agriculture in Maricopa

Victor Jimenez isn’t a celebrity or a big shot figure. He’s not a famous musician or a local politician. He’s just an everyday, working individual.

But still, he’s made an impression on many kids from around the state — so much so that when Jimenez goes to the grocery store, sometimes a child will recognize him and come up to say hello.

Jimenez supervises the Ag-Venture program at the University of Arizona’s Maricopa Agricultural Center. As the 4-H Extension Agent, he’s in charge of creating fun, interactive field trips focused on agriculture and farming for students all over.

Students visiting the center go on tractor tours, navigate corn mazes, harvest produce (when in season), make crafts, milk a fake cow, plant a seed, and learn about how agriculture and farming work.

“I make no bones about it,” Jimenez said. “I say it’s the best field trip ever. Everyone that comes likes it.”

The field trip is so good Jimenez calls it Agriculture Disneyland.

Bob Roth, the interim resident director at the Maricopa Agricultural Center, said having a place where kids can go to learn about agriculture is important. In past generations, children learned about farming through a family member who had a farm. That’s not always the case anymore.

Now, kids don’t know if a carrot is grown on a tree or in the ground, Roth said. Programs like the Ag-Venture one are important because they show that everyone is involved in the agriculture business.

“If you eat, you’re involved in agriculture,” Roth said.

Around 8,500 children — from as close as Maricopa and as far away as Show Low — participated in the Ag-Venture program last year. When Jimenez started the program around 10 years ago, he thought he’d be lucky to reach 150 kids.

“They asked me how many students I was going to reach. There wasn’t even a program,” Jimenez said. “I said, ‘Oh, 650 people for the first year.’ I truly thought if I get 150 people, I’ll be so lucky.”

Jimenez passed the 650 mark — by a lot. Around 1,800 students participated in the program in its first year. In its second and third years, Jimenez reached around 2,500 and 3,500 kids, respectively.

“We’ve touched a want and a need and an interest that people really want to know about,” Jimenez said.

All of the activities in the program are designed to be educational, even if kids don’t recognize it. In one activity, children make a bracelet with different color beads that represent different elements that make a plant grow — blue for water, clear for air, brown for soil, yellow for sun, white for seed, red for tender-loving care, and green for the plant.

Jimenez encourages the kids to take the bracelet home and show it off to family and friends.

“It’s a way for the kids to transfer what they learn here to the community, to their friends at school who didn’t come on the field trip, to their parents, their families and so forth,” Jimenez said.

Jimenez also takes the field trip “on the road,” visiting school districts from around the state and sharing his enthusiasm and love for agriculture.

And it seems like his passion — and desire to help kids learn about agriculture — is working.

When Jimenez quizzes the kids on what they learn, they know all the answers.

“You know, I don’t even know why you guys came to the farm today. You are so smart. You know so much,” Jimenez will tell the kids. “You could have been back at school studying arithmetic or spelling!”

“No, no, no, no!” the kids respond. “We like it here!”

Day One – It’s a Miracle: Scotts plant turns waste into products for yards
Day Two – The tractor goes high tech
Day Three – A fun field of study
Day Four – Crop of the Cream 

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