There’s nothing exotic about a pizza, but for many students the origins of their favorite slice — the stalks of wheat or the dairy cow that produces milk for mozzarella — might as well be from another planet.
Recently, more than 800 Metro Atlanta elementary school students got a behind the scenes look at where pizza comes from at University of Georgia Cooperative Extension’s Pizza Farm.
UGA Extension and Georgia Department of Agriculture officials hosted the end-of-year field trip at the State Farmers Market in Forest Park as a way to help urban and suburban children make the connection between agriculture and the food on their plates.
They learned how wheat plants are processed into flour to make pizza dough and were able to examine tomato plants and taste and smell the herbs that go into pizza sauce. The students also saw a dairy cow and learn how much feed and water she needs to make the milk that is used to make cheese.
Food doesn't just come from the grocery store
“A lot of young people don’t have agriculture in their backgrounds, and they really don’t understand where their food comes from,” said Beverly Sparks, associate dean for Extension at the UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.
“I think events like this really help them realize that food does not come from the grocery store. In an event like this we’re helping them understand what all it takes to produce a pizza.”
Kisha Faulk, a UGA Extension agent in Fulton County, helped lead the charge to develop a agricultural awareness curriculum for the program.
“There is a lot to learn from a pizza,” Faulk said. “By walking through the parts of the pizza, you can learn about the dairy cows that we have here in Georgia, the wheat that we grow here and use in our mills. We have information about tomatoes and herbs that we use in sauce. And we even have live animals, that we use for our toppings.”
Diet and exercise are key
In addition to learning more about what it takes to produce the food that is sold in restaurants and the grocery store, they also learned how a pizza fits into the My Plate dietary guideline for proper nutrition. They also learned the importance of exercise and fun ways to get active through a dance party.
Getting students interested in where their food comes from can help make them more interested in nutrition in general and hopefully more apt to make healthier decisions about food, Faulk said.
The teachers who brought their students said Pizza Farm was a fun and educational way to wind down the school year, with one calling it the best field trip that she and her class had taken.
Adults learned, too
State Senator Valencia Seay, who represents Clayton County, visited the Pizza Farm along with elementary school students from her district. She said she identified with the young people at the farmers’ market.
Growing up in in-town Atlanta, Seay had no experience with farming when she was first elected to the George House of Representatives in 2001 and was immediately assigned to the agriculture committee.
“Coming out of the city of Atlanta, being a city child, I was never around farming,” said Seay. “I was never around animals. That was not a part of who I was, but I was determined to find out more about what drives the state of Georgia. And today I’m so excited to have Pizza Farm Day here at the Georgia State Farmers market in Senate District 34.”
Faulk and the rest of the team who put on the exhibition are already planning next year’s event. They hope to expand the event and invite even more students to the Pizza Farm.
“The part of the Pizza Farm that I love the best is just the pure excitement when kids are going through the different stations,” Faulk said. “We are so busy in the urban center that we miss out on some of the simple things in life and on some of the important things that make us healthy and happy.”
For more information on UGA Extension in your county, call 1-800-ASK-UGA1.
(Merritt Melancon is a news editor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)
Students learn how wheat is turned into flour and how to toss pizza dough at the 2013 Pizza Farm at the Georgia State Farmers Market.Download Image