The “Know Your Farmer” education program has allowed thousands of local students an opportunity they might otherwise not have had to take field trips to farms where they participate in hands-on activities.

Since it started in 2007, the program run by the Community Alliance with Family Farmers has partnered with more than 20 elementary schools in Humboldt County. Sponsored this year by the McLean Foundation and the Cooperative Community Fund, the program is currently seeking donations and volunteers.

”Everyone in the program that works with the kids is so excited to be doing what they're doing and kids have a radar for that,” said Tammy Pruden, a second grade teacher at South Fortuna Elementary School. “One student I taught last year had never been to a farm before participating in the program. After, he said he wanted to have his own farm one day.”

The program takes place in the fall and spring and first involves a farmer visiting the classroom a few weeks before the children visit their actual farm. The DeepSeeded and Shakefork community farms will participate in the program this spring.

Meredith Peterson, the Community Alliance with Family Farmer's regional food systems assistant, said the program prioritizes working with schools where 50 percent or more of the students are eligible for free and reduced price meals.

”We administer surveys at the end of the program, and I've seen a really positive reaction from the chaperones, parents and teachers,” Peterson said. “A lot of teachers have told me this is one out of maybe two field trips their classes have each year.”

Each field trip includes about 50 students. They start and end with group gatherings among the students, chaperones and people from the farm that are complete with singing and dancing. Children rotate among four stations. One is a nutrition station, where the children do activities such as make their own tacos using lettuce as shells and other ingredients from the farm.

”The tacos are a huge hit,” Pruden said. “Some kids even put flowers in theirs. They're encouraged to be experimental, and the tacos come out so yummy and tasty.”

Another station relates to insects, where children learn about their life cycles and inspect them. There's also a compost station and a plant station, where the children learn the anatomy of plants.

”Usually, adults say 'Don't dig in the dirt!' and during the trips, kids get so excited to do that,” Pruden said. “All the stations are not just educational, but interactive. It's not just adults yapping away, it's kids actually doing different activities.”

Melanie Cunningham, of Shakefork Community Farm in Carlotta, said she thinks the program is really important for kids these days to have a better understanding of where their food comes from.

”It's a great message for getting the kids excited and giving them hands on experience,” Cunningham said. “Developing the different stations is pretty exciting. It's really cool to see kids learn new information as they participate.”

No teaching experience is needed for volunteers, but the program is looking for people with positive attitudes and a desire to engage children. To find out more about volunteering, contact Meredith Peterson at meredith@caff.org or call 826-0233.

Jillian Singh can be reached at 441-0509 or jsingh@times-standard.com