Buses loaded with elementary school students eager for a special day away from their classrooms roll up and down the hills and valleys that shape the landscape in rural eastern Ohio.
It’s the annual Fifth Grade Field Day for the aptly named Switzerland of Ohio School District. The day is sponsored by the Monroe County Soil & Water Conservation District and the Monroe County Farm Bureau joins other organizations in getting kids out of their classrooms and into sessions about conservation, electric power, wildlife, agriculture and more.
Children from every school in the district converge on the fairgrounds in Woodsfield for the event, and every year for at least the last decade Monroe County Farm Bureau member Glenda Thomas and her pizza farm have been ready for them.
All the doors, including the cargo garage doors, are open on the simple buildings that line the outskirts of the fairgrounds on an unseasonably warm day in May. Students make their way from one building to another at the sound of a horn that echoes around the complex at specific intervals signaling the beginning of the next session.
“One student told me ‘My dad said there is nothing healthy in pizza,’” Thomas said. “I told him ‘That’s not true. Did you see all the healthy vegetables on that?’”
Her props include wheat, cheese, oil, tomatoes, pepperoni, peppers, mushrooms, herbs and more.
She jokes about the “grind” the wheat goes through to eventually become pizza dough, talks about the year it takes for Parmesan cheese to age into its true calling and teaches about how green bell peppers are “young” peppers – those that are picked before they have a chance to turn red, orange or yellow.
“I love telling the kids about farming,” she said, “about growing food and where their food comes from. I’ll ask ‘Where does pepperoni come from?’ and they’ll say ‘We get it from the grocery store.'”
Thomas, who spent 30 years as a dairy farmer with her husband, Bill, said she still “knows how to throw a bale of hay.” She said she loves talking to the kids about something that interests them. She’s quick with a smile and laugh, her voice pitching when a student gets the answer right to one of her pizza questions. She enjoys the “ohhs” and “awws” when she surprises them with pizza facts they’ve never heard before (see below).
Even some kids who have grown up on farms or around farming learn a little something new.
“I didn’t know that mushrooms grew on farms,” said fifth-grader Dylan Landefeld, whose family is made up of dairy farmers. “I thought they just grew out in the wild.”
Fifth-grader Fred Anderson, whose family raises goats, chickens and beef cattle, was “surprised at how many acres it takes” to feed our nation’s appetite for pizza each day.
Helping tell the pizza farm story are Monroe County Farm Bureau members John and Bess Lusk, as well as Monroe County Organization Director Betsy Anderson and Leslie Workman from the county’s Ohio State University Extension office. Bess helps put the pieces of a pizza together in a hanging felt display as Thomas passes around fragrant bags of herbs that help give a kick to pizza sauce.
“They know it but they just didn’t think about it,” said Bess Lusk of the pizza presentation. “They know soybeans grow on a farm, but they don’t think about it going into oil used on a pizza.”
“Glenda does a great job helping the kids visualize everything, like how a tomato turns into the sauce that is put on the pizza,” said Monroe County Farm Bureau Board Member Steve Burkhart. “Then they get a piece of pizza and they’ll remember that if nothing else.”
We love our pizza
One in eight Americans eat pizza every day and 3 billion pizzas are sold in the United States every year.
That equates to consuming:
• 350 slices of pizza per second
• 100 acres of pizza ingredients each day
• 23 pounds of pizza per person every year
• 46 slices of pizza per person every year
Pizza’s origins date back to Pompeii, Italy, in the year 79 A.D., but the first pizza joint in the United States was opened in 1905 in Manhattan, N.Y. by Gennaro Lombardi. Lombardi’s Pizzeria is still open today.
Source: American Farm Bureau Federation’s Ag Mag, Pizza edition.
Feature image: A Monroe County Farm Bureau member, Thomas gives her pizza farm presentation to fifth-grade students in the Switzerland of Ohio School District.
Photos by Dave Liggett