Ali Kinlaw enjoyed a few moments of respite from the sweltering sun Sunday afternoon at the State Fair of West Virginia as her children experienced the Farm to Food Pavilion.
“They have an all-day carnival ride pass but they would rather be down here riding tractors and collecting vegetables,” Kinlaw said, laughing, as 4-year-old Ivy added peppers and tomatoes to her overflowing toy vegetable harvest.
Kinlaw said Ivy’s 9-year-old brother Kolton didn’t mind pretending with his little sister, but at the moment he was enjoying his second time through the corn maze, new to the Farm to Food experience this year.
Aside from allowing her a chance to get out of the sun, Kinlaw, a Fayette County native who now resides in Tobaccoville, N.C., said she’s glad her kids enjoy spending time in the pavilion designed to teach youngsters where their food comes from.
“Kids don’t get enough of that now,” she said, adding it’s something she tries to teach her children as she homeschools and has her own garden. “Gardening seems to be going by the wayside now. It takes time, energy and effort and everybody is so busy.”
That is why Kristi Caraway says the Farm to Food Pavilion is so important.
Caraway, the assistant cross-country coach at Greenbrier East High School, is, along with members of her team, manning the pavilion during the fair as part of a fundraiser for the athletic season.
“We’re teaching the kids about agriculture,” said Caraway, who, like many of her athletes, grew up on a farm.
“The Farm to Food Pavilion is a free, hands-on experience for kids to come through and learn more about farming, where their food comes from and how they get milk and eggs,” she said.
As children enter the pavilion, they receive baskets and a small shovel and are then led to stations where they learn how to plant and harvest a garden.
“We have kids come over to a box of dirt to plant the seeds,” Caraway explained, walking to a box of dirt where children get their hands dirty. “We tell them how it takes soil, sunshine and water.”
From there, children can harvest vegetables from the ground and feed them to various toy animals stationed throughout the building.
A sign informs kids about different parts of pigs, sheep and cows and things you can harvest from each animal.
A lifelike lamb stands in the back, and children are encouraged to give its coat a brush.
“We like to tell them we’re getting the lamb ready for the show,” Caraway said.
Children walk past a display of flowers, posters with facts on bees and honeycombs they can pull out and touch.
When they get to a section on chicken and cows, they can act as farmers.
“They can collect the (toy) eggs,” Caraway said before turning to point to a girl squeezing water from what looked like a cow’s udder. “And there’s a place where they can milk the cows.”
Toy apples rest on wooden trees ripe for the picking.
When the children finish with their harvest, they return whatever produce they have remaining in their baskets to the front area in what Caraway says is the market.
In exchange, they receive a seed package.
“We don’t know what seed is in here,” she said. “It’s a mystery, but we tell them they plant this entire thing in soil, give it water and watch it grow.”
Those children not collecting crops or reading the signs are often found riding a toy John Deere tractor around the pavilion or even playing on one of three new stationary iPads, featuring farm games.
The iPads, like the corn maze, sponsored by Miller’s Family Farm, are new additions to the Farm to Food pavilion this year.
Though Caraway said the video games have garnered some interest, she said it’s the hands-on activities that require kids — and adults — to move around that are the most popular.
Caraway said she enjoys sharing information with children and believes the Farm to Food Pavilion, which is open daily from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., is an important piece of the state fair.
She said she often hears families return year after year because their children enjoy the experience and their parents appreciate what their child learns.
“(A parent said) You go to the store and get something out of the box and you prepare it,” she said of a conversation she had earlier in the day. “The parent said we really like how this is set up because you see how real food is planted and how it’s grown.
“I think that’s the main thing,” she continued. “To teach kids how you can grow your own food. How it’s better for you. How it’s more nutritional. We just want to give kids an appreciation and an understanding.”