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Pizza Farm shows kids where food comes from
VERONA – A round garden plot divided by fences into sections showed about 750 students in north Mississippi what it takes to make pizza.
The Pizza Farm at Mississippi State University’s North Mississippi Research and Extension Center is open each April for school groups to tour. The garden in Verona is divided into eight sections -- or slices -- showing pizza ingredients in their natural, growing state.
Slices had wheat, canola, herbs, a pine tree, two pigs, a beef cow, a dairy cow and her calf, and tomatoes and peppers.
“What does a pine tree have to do with pizza? Do you put pine needles in your pizza?” Michael Pruitt, Benton County Extension agriculture and natural resources agent, asked a group of third-graders.
Pruitt explained how pine trees become pizza boxes after the bark is stripped, the wood is shredded and chipped, and the pulp is made into paper.
“They get a visual perception looking at the live animals on the outside demonstration,” said Randall Nevins, Monroe County Extension agriculture and natural resources agent. “We’re telling them what the animal is and what it does, and how it relates to the ingredients in their pizza.”
Students not only get a visual, but they also can stoop down and touch the growing wheat, examine the herbs, pet the cow and her calf, and try to rub the pigs.
The Pizza Farm experience begins indoors with 10 interactive, educational stops. Visitors dance for exercise, hit a buzzer to answer questions about meat, mash bananas by hand to demonstrate the process of turning wood into paper, and learn about healthy food choices from a play featuring Dorothy and other characters from “The Wizard of Oz.”
Riley Mann, a 9-year-old third-grader at Marietta Elementary in Prentiss County, said he learned that every year, each farmer raises enough food for 155 people.
“I learned about what the farmers do and how they make food and raise pigs and animals,” Mann said. “I was surprised at the stuff they put in pizza.”
Sherry Smith, Lee County Extension agent, has organized the Pizza Farm for 18 years.
“We’re trying to educate students a little more on the importance of the farmer’s job,” Smith said. “The kids enjoy the activities, and we feed them pizza at the end.”
The activities have been carefully coordinated to complement the core competencies studied in school. The Extension Services invites schools in the 30-county area served by the North Mississippi Research and Extension Center to send classes for the day. As many as 250 students a day can tour the Pizza Farm, and tours are scheduled for one week each April.
“Extension agents from this area have been trained to do this program, and they come in each day to present their part of the Pizza Farm to the students,” Smith said.
Paula Threadgill, Extension associate director, said the Pizza Farm combines all the parts of Extension Service in the one educational activity for young people.
“I see this as a holistic program,” Threadgill said. “The Pizza Farm provides an interesting and fun opportunity for kids to be introduced to the Extension Service while they are taught where there foods come from.”