Students get a glimpse of farm life


Kimball Wiles Elementary second and third graders listen to a presentation from Cattle Ranchers William and Marilyn Deas, of Deas Land & Cattle LLC, for Florida Farm to School Week on Friday.

Doug Finger/The Gainesville Sun
Published: Friday, November 22, 2013 at 5:10 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, November 22, 2013 at 5:10 p.m.

Not every student in Alachua County gets to visit a farm to see where their food comes from.

So this week, the school district brought the farms to school.

Waldo Community School and Wiles Elementary saw visitors for Florida Farm to School Week, an annual Department of Agriculture campaign designed to raise awareness about some of Florida’s largest industries.

On Monday, the school district’s Food and Nutrition Services department brought a University of Florida dietician to speak to Waldo kindergartners and first-graders about healthy eating.

Afterward, groups trooped outside to plant broccoli, spinach and carrots in their garden. The produce will be used in the school kitchen.

Wiles Elementary students planted vegetables in their garden as well, but second- and third-graders got a different kind of lesson on Friday.

Bill and Marilyn Deas, a real-life cowboy and cowgirl, came to talk to the children about cattle farming.

Bill Deas stepped into the school amphitheater first, 150 children eyeballing his big white mustache, 10-gallon hat and well-worn leather cowboy boots.

He asked if anyone knew why cowboys wear hats.

“To show they’re the good guys,” said a boy in the back row.

Well, Deas said, the hat is to give shade and protect from the weather, but cowboys are the good guys.

“Cowboys are friends of the environment,” he said.

They’re stewards of the earth, and their mission is to help their community by providing wholesome food, Deas said.

The Deases, who have about 300 head of cattle on their 1,500 acres of ranch land, aim to do just that.

Bill Deas went on to explain that Florida has the longest history of cattle farming in the whole country. Ponce de Leon and his explorers first brought domesticated cattle to Florida in the 1500s.

Deas is a sixth-generation Floridian himself, and his family has always been involved with agriculture. Deas is also the vice president of the Alachua County board of the Florida Farm Bureau.

After the history lesson, Deas showed his audience the tools of the trade, starting with cowboy boots.

A 1,400-pound cow can do a lot of damage if she steps on your toe, he said.

Next, he showed the metal spurs on the heel of the boots — used to gently remind a horse which direction to go, but never used to kick a horse — and metal horseshoes, which protect a horse’s hooves from wear.

The Deases brought out the two brands they use on their ranch: a “turkey track” and a design with a U next to an upside down U.

“It’s a tattoo for the cows!” shouted a boy in a blue shirt.

Not quite, Deas said, although the designs have significance.

“U up, U down,” he said. “So that’s kind of like life.”

The next prop he brought out drew much chattering from the children. A lasso.

Much to the students’ dismay, Bill Deas refused to lasso his wife. Instead, he swung the rope into the air and “caught” an easel holding a Farm Week sign.

The children cheered. They clapped again for the cow whip.

Marilyn Deas took some questions from the crowd, including one from second-grade teacher Michael O’Donnell.

“Which make better leaders,” he asked about the cows, “boys or girls?”

When the shrieking of the students quieted down, she answered.

Although they’re bigger and scarier, Marilyn Deas said, bulls are “a little bit nonchalant. On the whole, it’s the mama who leads and protects.”

As the students filed out of the amphitheater, Marilyn Deas said it’s important for children to interact with real farmers so they have an awareness of where their food comes from.

That’s why she and her husband decided to volunteer for the event.

“We just think it’s important for the children to understand what ag means,” she said.

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