'Traveling farm' spreads state fair to schools

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Tacoma -- Third-grader Roberta Moore already knew a thing or two about chickens, unlike some of her classmates at Lake Louise Elementary School in Lakewood. She said her family has five of the birds at home.

But the Washington State Fair's Traveling Farm still taught her something new.

"I didn't know chickens could lay big, big eggs," 9-year-old Roberta said while standing outside the mobile farm exhibit after seeing an egg twice the size of her hand.

She did know to look at a hen's earlobes to see what color eggs it will lay -- one of many interactive lessons third-graders experience as part of the program connected to the popular fair in Puyallup.

For 17 days in September every year, the Fair showcases a variety of animals and provides educational opportunities at the fairgrounds.

The Traveling Farm takes that education a step further during the school year with a customized tractor-trailer that expands to a 33-foot-wide, 48-foot-long mobile classroom. It moves from school to school, teaching kids about food production and farming.

Fair spokeswoman Karen LaFlamme said the program started small in 1986 with a single staff member working with FFA students. Now, there are about 12 rotating fair staff members, with three to four staff on-site during classes.

Schools book a year in advance, and the farm travels to cities within 50 miles of the fairgrounds. In the year that just concluded, the traveling farm visited schools from Tacoma to Black Diamond, from Olympia to Renton.

Peggy Watson, the program coordinator, said the curriculum is designed for early learners from first to third grade. It provides hands-on sensory activities and a petting farm to help students learn how food makes it from the farm to the table.

Kids learn about many topics, which include products that come from sheep and the tools needed to harvest rhubarb.

"There's some really cool things in there," said Anita Seivert, a third-grade teacher at Lake Louise. "It's helping (kids) understand where the resources come from."

Living in an agriculture-rich state, Watson said, children need to understand healthy farm practices. "It makes our life richer," she said. "It makes us appreciate where we live."