Like most success stories, Farm 2 Table had very humble beginnings. It was an experiment to start. Invite kids to the The Fairgrounds invited students for a half day field trip that would provide hands on activities that taught about agriculture. The field trip was (and continues to be) free to schools, including a subsidy for busing. The schedule quickly filled with classes and before anyone knew kids were running through the grounds petting pigs, planting vegetables, measuring horses, and sampling maple syrup. While the days were chilly, and the barns were just that-barns it was quickly apparent that something great was happening!
Kids, many for the first time, were able to come face to face with livestock and receive an age-appropriate understanding of how food and other products start on the farm. Program organizers knew they were on the right track when kids stared in wonder when told chocolate milk did not in fact come from brown cows or when heated debates broke out discussing whether a tomato is a fruit or vegetable!
Those first two weeks were trying but rewarding. 650 students came through and there were plenty of wrinkles to iron out- but the guts were good and the heart of the program was in the right place. So it moved forward growing continually for the next three school years.
At the end of the 2013 Erie County Fair the barns that previously held the Farm 2 Table program were torn down to make way for what would become the largest construction project on the Fairgrounds to date. This meant Farm 2 Table was a bit displaced- but not cancelled. Farm 2 Table 2 Go was born and traveled throughout WNY to classrooms directly. Kids would have a hands-on activity and presentation right at their desk. As the miles rolled on the program saw 6,700 kids that school year.
August 1, 2014 marked the Grand Opening of the Agriculture Discovery Center. The 60,000 square foot building was set to become Farm 2 Table’s new home. With a permanent indoor facility, the program was able to expand. Farm 2 Table was held just two weeks twice a year during those initial years (and even then it was a bit chilly some days). Now with the ADC, the program had the ability to run October-June for the first two weeks of each month. This allowed for 68 days of learning and welcomed 6,500 kids through the doors over the 2014-2015 school year.
The lessons each month varied from November’s Thanksgiving on the Farm, to celebrating spring with plants, and capping off the year with National Dairy Month in June. Kids had the opportunity to get up close to livestock, make crafts, sample produce, and so much more!
Sessions began at 10:00am. Each day had three grade appropriate sessions that involved a presentation followed by a hands-on activity. The day finished with a bagged lunch brought from home. Kids leave Farm 2 Table with a bag full of the activities they completed that day as well as a ticket to visit the Erie County Fair with a parent to continue their agriculture education.
In just 5 years Farm 2 Table (and Farm 2 Table 2 Go) has educated 16,959 students! Sessions, which are still free for schools to participate in, are now being offered to grades K-5. Spaces are already limited for the 2015-2016 school year, but teachers who wish to enroll their class may do so here.
Over the years Farm 2 Table has been proudly produced by the Erie County Agricultural Society, but none of it would be possible without the incredible volunteers. Over the past year 32 volunteers logged more than 1,700 hours. These folks have become as much a part of the program as the name itself and the Fairgrounds is lucky to have such a dedicated core of people who have made Farm 2 Table a true success!
The commitment to agriculture continues this summer with the Grand Opening of Little Hands on the Farm. This interactive kid-sized farm will give children the opportunity to participate in a variety of “chores” and activities that will teach them about the different facets of farms. At the end of the experience kids will sell their farm products and be able to purchase themselves a snack as payment for all their hard work. While the project will debut at the Fair, Little Hands on the Farm will welcome visiting schools and day cares throughout the year (weather permitting).