May 1, 2015

The Phoenix Zoo’s New Exhibit

Rousseau Farming Company’s Food Safety Officer Kami Weddle is teaching Arizona’s children how their food is grown, why we should eat lots of fruits and veggies and the importance of the specialty crop industry to Arizona.

As part of an Arizona Specialty Crop Block Grant and in partnership with the Phoenix Zoo, several of Western Growers’ member companies—including Rousseau Farming Company and EverKrisp Vegetables—are hosting Farmer Workshops at the Zoo’s Fruit and Vegetable Learning Garden to introduce our children—and their parents and teachers—to Arizona agriculture.

During her recent workshops, Weddle explained to high school seniors, and later, fifth graders, what exactly goes into growing carrots, kale and watermelon, among other crops.

“We grow in your neighborhoods … Talking Stick reservation … over by Cardinal Stadium … in Gilbert,” Weddle said. “It takes about 800,000 carrots seeds to seed an acre.  That acre produces about 30 tons of carrots.”

One student was struggling. “It’s hard to visualize an acre.”

“A football field is a little more than an acre,” Weddle responded.

And so began a discussion about what many of us in the specialty crop industry may take for granted.  A question was asked about the decline in the bee population and why that matters.  Weddle explained that watermelon is a cucurbit and as such, has separate male and female flowers.  Watermelon does not self-pollinate; bees must transfer the pollen from male to female flowers.  “In fact,” Weddle said, “bees pollinate almost 80 percent of all produce.  So you bet our bees are important to us.”

The workshop also covered food safety, how many varieties of carrots there are, what different commodities are grown in Arizona and the types of agriculture careers that are available to these young people.

As a measureable outcome for the grant, students were surveyed at the end of each workshop.  Based on the results of the survey, it is clear the students learned a great deal.  They learned what grows in Arizona (answers included: kale, herbs, all kinds of lettuce, carrots, melons, tomatoes, citrus).  They also learned about jobs in agriculture—science, food safety, engineering, marketing, human resources and accounting.

And, many students provided a bonus fun fact they learned:

•   Watermelons are 92 percent water.

•   Carrots take six months to grow.

•   Yuma is the winter vegetable capital of the world.

•   Food is grown in Arizona.

The Phoenix Zoo Farmer Workshops will continue through September 2015.  For more information, please contact Sabrina Blair at [email protected] 949-885-4789.