Those of us involved in agriculture often take for granted that our fellow citizens have a good understanding of the importance of what farmers and ranchers do.

Some may, but a growing segment of our population is clueless of the direct linkage existing between farmers and ranchers and what the average American consumes on a daily basis. For so many of today's youth, what they know about farmers came from nursery rhymes, children's books and cartoons, and those sources are about as far from reality as one can get.

That is why local agricultural groups have come together to offer third- and fourth-grade elementary school students and their teachers first-hand knowledge of agriculture production and why it is so important in everyone's lives. After all, every time we stop to eat a meal we are directly involved in agriculture.

These educational events are conducted under a variety of names. In some counties they are called "Youth Ag Field Days," others are referred to as "Ag Awareness Days" or "Ag in the Classroom Field Trips." No matter what the official designation might be in your area, our hat goes off to all the concerned agriculturalists and leaders of farm and ranch organizations who join forces to conduct these events.

Bringing first-hand knowledge about agriculture, soil and water stewardship to these impressionable students helps them to understand that food does not originate inside the walls of their mom's favorite supermarket or their favorite hamburger chain.

During the past few weeks, events that teach young people about food and natural fiber commodity production have been conducted in the Coastal Bend counties of San Patricio, Bee and Nueces. These are collaborative events with the Farm Bureau, county extension agents, the local Soil and Water Conservation District, agribusinesses and commodity organizations like the Southwest Dairy Association typically involved.

The two-day event just conducted in Nueces County at the new Richard M. Borchard Regional Fairgrounds in Robstown involved over 800 students, teachers, aides and parents that represented more than a dozen elementary and home-schooled groups from all geographic areas of the county. The majority of students saw for the first time a cow being milked, cotton being ginned and livestock and poultry being fed grain products to develop market-quality meat animals.

Teachers who brought their fourth-grade classes to this day-long event were provided an "Ag in the Classroom" resource manual and a variety of teaching activity books to use back at school to reinforce the learning experience.

Students can easily relate to hamburgers, fried chicken and ice cream. But they are often surprised to learn that meat animals are the source of these popular food items. They also learn the importance of consuming meat in moderation and the need to have servings of fresh fruits and vegetables as part of healthy balanced diets.

These students also learn that farmers and ranchers work hard and assume tremendous financial risks to produce our food and natural fiber crops so that the people of the United States can enjoy the safest and most affordable food supply on the planet.

Thanks to all who were involved in conducting these events - their efforts help our youth gain a clear understanding that farmers and ranchers are the people responsible for producing the food that is necessary to provide the nourishment that keeps us alive. Hopefully, when this year's Thanksgiving Day feast comes around, these youngsters will be reminding the adults around the table that we need to give thanks for our country's farmers and ranchers for producing what we eat.