NORTH LIBERTY — With baskets full of alliums, farmer Shanti Sellz stood before a group of 10- and 11-year-olds Tuesday at Van Allen Elementary School.
“You guys are my farm helpers today, OK?” she said, as the fifth-grade students sifted through the vegetables — sorting them into groups of garlic, onions and shallots.
Sellz and other area farmers visited the school as part of a Farmer Fair hosted by Field to Family, an Iowa City-based organization that promotes a sustainable, healthy food system in the region.
“It puts a name and a face and a human side to agriculture,” Sellz said. “ ... Kids in these scenarios, the next time they drive by a farm or the next time they’re at the grocery store, there’s a little bit more of a discussion or a thought process around where food comes from, and what their relationship to it is.”
The organization has so far hosted more than a dozen of the fairs, with help from a U.S. Department of Agriculture grant awarded to Iowa Valley Resource Conservation and Development — a nonprofit focused on food systems — according to a news release.
Iowa Valley RC&D and Field to Family are working with the Iowa City Community School District — which oversees Van Allen Elementary — as well as the Solon, Clear Creek Amana and Cedar Rapids districts to provide nutrition education programs for students.
“The kids are so excited to meet farmers,” Field to Family Director Michelle Kenyon said. “And that’s what today is all about.”
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The schools’s some 450 students learned about soil science and composting, tasted locally-grown food and planted garlic plants throughout the day.
Meeting farmers at school could be students’ first link to the fruits, vegetables, eggs and meat they eat, farmers said. Even in an agricultural state, many students in Iowa’s urban areas don’t have a connection to a farm.
Most farmland is managed by people 55 or older, according the Eastern Iowa Young Farmers Coalition.
But 100 million acres of that land is expected to change ownership within five years, according to the National Agricultural Statistics Service, a prime opportunity for young farmers.
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Gazette Reporter Madison Arnold contributed to this report.