CALF fosters spirit of ag for urban, suburban audiences
May 19, 2017
When Brooke Fox was a child, field days on her family's ranch in Kansas were some the best days of the year. When the ranch held a field day, it meant treating the community to a day of on-farm education about its Angus beef program. It was a chance to meet new people, have fun with old friends and enjoy everything rural life had to offer.
Kids growing up in the city don't have those kinds of experiences every day, Fox said. That's why CALF, the Colorado Agricultural Leadership Foundation, based out of Castle Rock, hosts free ag-themed bashes twice a year, as well as providing space for classes, community projects and more. Their first big event of the year, Farm and Ranch Day, is a family festival loosely based off the Field Day concept from Fox, and many other rural children. The event typically draws in 500 to 700 participants from around the Denver Metro area.
Farm and Ranch Day, set for May 27 at CALF's Lowell Ranch in Castle Rock, will feature hay rides, draft horses, a farm safety trailer from the Colorado Farm Bureau, vendors and a chance to experience agriculture up close. The event will also be home to a beekeeping class and a 4-H and FFA Livestock Showmanship clinic and jackpot. The event will be educational, just like the field days Fox remembers, but more than anything, it will be fun.
"(Going to a field day) was a fun opportunity just to be outside, to learn new things and to meet new people," said Fox, CEO of CALF. "(Farm and Ranch Day) is kind of an open house for the ranch. We hope that people have a really enjoyable day, learn something while they're here, meet some new people and have a lot of fun."
CALF's mission is to bring the agricultural experience to people of all ages and abilities. Through events like Farm and Ranch Day, Fox said the organization can show a tidbit of rural life to people who have never seen it before.
Every year at the event, she sees children's eyes light up when they get to pet Paco, a friendly donkey that lives at the Lowell Ranch, and take a photograph with him. The kids get to learn about agriculture alongside their parents, who also oftentimes grew up in a world removed from farm and ranch life.
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Sometimes, it's grandparents that bring children to Farm and Ranch Day. Those stories are Fox's favorite, because many times, the grandparents are sharing a piece of their past with the little ones.
"We get a lot of grandparents who say, 'I'm so glad this is here, because this reminds me of my childhood. I'm so glad my grandchildren are having an opportunity to see this,'" Fox said.
Since the majority of the audience CALF serves lives in an urban or suburban setting, they often don't have much experience with livestock shows the way rural communities do. That's why part of the Farm and Ranch Day festivities is focused around bringing all the fun of a county fair to a diverse audience.
"I just feel like people are from the land and with so much focus on television and everything about more urban, more suburban kinds of life and lifestyles, people sort of forget where their food comes from, and they forget that there's a whole group of people out there that are really working hard and doing important things," Fox said.
The showmanship clinics — one on each of the four main market species, goats, sheep, pigs and cattle — will feature experienced show ring pros teaching the ins and outs of caring for and handling animals in the arena. After the clinics, kids can bring their goats, sheep or cattle to show what they've learned in a blow-and-go jackpot, with payouts for top honors in each species. The jackpot costs $10 per entry and all funds, as well as sponsorship money, go back into the prizes for participants.
During the jackpot, judges explain their findings not only to the participants, but to an audience made up of all different familiarity levels.
"It's a really fun interface, because it's the parents of the kids who are showing, and it's also the general public," Fox said. "They're getting the curtain pulled back and getting a little bit of insight. People are just grateful for that and they walk away with something they didn't know."
Fostering FFA and 4-H is an important part of CALF's operation. This year, the Lowell Ranch is home to 14 ag projects for students who otherwise could not participate in 4-H and FFA because their families don't have the capacity to house animals. Since it was founded in 2002, CALF has helped about 100 students participate in 4-H and FFA by providing them a place to raise their animals.
The ranch also invites area elementary schools — totaling more than 3,000 students each year — to visit the farm. There, the students not only see the animals being raised by kids like them, but they also tour the centennial farm, from its outbuildings and hoop houses to its century-old farmhouse.
CALF also partners with various organizations in Douglas County, including Wellspring Community, a Castle Rock-based nonprofit that works to empower adults with special needs by offering them work and recreation opportunities. Two of these chances for the Wellspring participants come at CALF, where several participants are trained to give tours to their peers, and other participants come and tend a crop twice a week. The participants started seedlings in the hoop house and will soon transfer them to the field, where they will tend to them and harvest them. Then, some of the products will return to the bakery and café at Wellspring.
"It gives those Wellspring participants the opportunity to really take pride in learning and then providing their knowledge to someone else," Fox said. "It provides work that's really meaningful, and they can see the results of their work."
On Farm and Ranch Day, in between planting their own seeds, seeing birds of prey from HawkQuest and even learning about shooting sports, attendees will have the chance to purchase some of the seedlings grown by the Wellspring participants and support the program.
Farm and Ranch Day is like a big festival for participants of every background, Fox said. It's not quite as serious or focused as the field days she grew up with, but Fox thinks the event is the perfect crossover between rural and urban.
"To me, it's just a huge sense of pride to be able to be part of an organization that's bringing (agriculture) to life," Fox said. "It's not in the movies, it's not in a brochure — it's actually there. People are actually getting their hands dirty; they're actually smelling the smells of agriculture. They're seeing everything the land has to offer." ❖
— Work is a freelance writer from Lakewood, Colo. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.