Ag Day introduces valley’s fourth-graders to farm and ranch life
It was a glorious day to be a fourth-grade student at Methow Valley Elementary School — Thursday, Oct. 12. The pre-dawn fog cleared while you slept, giving rise to a brilliant morning. You went to school and then, after lunch, you and your 60 classmates hopped on a school bus for the 5-minute drive to Moccasin Lake Ranch, where green pastures and fields gleamed after the recent cleansing rain.
Before the bus had even pulled into the stables area you and your friends were shrieking with delight; your cries were heard by the ranch staff waiting to greet you.
The first thing you noticed were the two lines of farm equipment parked in tidy rows facing east. Out of the corner of your eye you glimpsed horses in corrals, a chicken coop, and several goats, but your mind told you “later, later,” because what you really wanted, what you could not imagine not being able to do, was to climb up on one of those tractors and drive it, or at least pretend to. But nobody gives a 10-year-old free reign on a tractor, do they?
And then incredibly, after a brief introductory welcome, a nice man spread his arms wide and said, “The machines are all unlocked. Go explore them.”
What ensued was not mayhem. Instead, it was the frenzied joy of kids on a perfect autumn
afternoon, feet on a farm, touching the trappings of an agricultural life.
“Ag Day” returned to Moccasin Lake Ranch this year. An event featuring farm equipment, livestock, and local farm products, Ag Day’s purpose is “to demonstrate to the youngsters that agriculture plays an important part in the economy of the Methow Valley,” said Jim Pigott, the event host and co-owner of Moccasin Lake Ranch.
Pigott said that he and Moccasin Lake’s former ranch manager, Steve Tomschin, designed Ag Day around a model that Tomschin introduced. “Steve brought the idea from the Midwest,” Pigott said. “There are all these small towns built on agricultural economies. They regularly host Ag Days to inspire their young people to stay in the area and work in agriculture.”
Working in agriculture can take many forms, Pigott said. “They might not all become farmers, but agriculture is a broad field. Some of them might become veterinarians; others could be county extension agents.”
In Pigott’s welcome to the students, he made connections between the things you find in a store and their origins on a farm. “Farms and ranches are the starting points of food for people and for animals,” he said.
The kids divided into three groups to tour the five stations set up at the ranch: the farm machinery, one of the dozen irrigation pivots on the property, the chicken coop, the horses, and the farm products. How many kids can you fit in a bale wagon? A lot, it turns out.
While some students clambered around on John Deeres (from which the keys had been removed) and hay bales both large and small, others walked out into one of the alfalfa fields to learn about the watering efficiencies of a pivot.
The group visiting Teri Beatty’s chicken coop discovered that chickens can live like the kings and queens they believe themselves to be, if they are fortunate enough to have the right coop mistress — which, at Moccasin Lake Ranch, they do.
The horses and ponies needed no introduction. They hung their heads over the fence rails and let kids pet them, while goats perched on giant tractor tires in the background.
Elise Ferguson of Cultivate Soap Co. and Katie Haven of McFarland Creek Lamb Ranch showed students the products they create from things that originate on a farm: goat’s milk soap, yarn, wool pillows. Elise brought one of her goats, a patient gal who let the kids pet her long coat.
Moccasin Lake Ranch initiated Ag Day in 2019. COVID paused the event for a couple of years, but this year it resumed, integrating with the school’s International Baccalaureate unit “How We Organize Ourselves,” by focusing on the Washington state economy, fourth-grade teacher Tiffany Surface said. The unit is “an inquiry into the interconnectedness of human-made systems and communities; the structure and function of organizations; societal decision-making; economic activities and their impact on humankind and the environment,” she said.
The agricultural life fits right into this model, Pigott says. “Not only does it help preserve and enrich the land, but it also provides jobs for families living in the valley.”
A life in agriculture also provides a commodity in scarce supply these days: solitude. When the father of Pigott’s wife, Gaye, bought Moccasin Lake Ranch in 1961, it was in part because he sought “a place to think,” Gaye said.
In 1961 the global population was about 3 billion; now it’s more than 8 billion. If ever “a place to think” has been needed, it is now, and perhaps the agricultural life can provide that opportunity for time alone.
Pigott thinks of things on economic and practical levels as well, saying “This introduction to farming may be instrumental in causing — a few years hence — some of the fourth-graders to stay in the Methow and select agriculture as a profession.”