Dianna Cooper shows students the anatomy of a plant during a field trip at the Indiana State Fair. Cooper has been teaching children on field trips at the fair for as long as the program has been running.
Dianna Cooper shows students the anatomy of a plant during a field trip at the Indiana State Fair. Cooper has been teaching children on field trips at the fair for as long as the program has been running.

INDIANAPOLIS — Two busloads of excited second-grade students unloaded at the Indiana State Fairgrounds on a warm spring day, releasing 70 students who were anxious to start their field trip.

The children from Indiana Public School #96 took part in the Farm to Pizza program to learn how food grown on farms is brought to their plate. Their journey began in a greenhouse, and they traveled from there to a barn and to the Little Hands on the Farm experience.

“The kids get very excited,” said Stephanie DeCamp, education specialist for Indiana State Fair Commission. “One little boy was here on the coldest, wettest day of the field trip. He said, ‘I’m going to be a farmer,’ and was very animated about it. That’s the exciting part.”

She said that more than 2,000 students came to the Farm to Pizza field trip over a five-week period that ended recently.

Taylor Miller, an education department intern at the fairgrounds, just started her internship and has enjoyed helping with the field trips.

“My favorite part of my internship is Little Hands,” said Miller, a senior in agribusiness management at Purdue University. “I will be training to run this exhibit later on.”

The Little Hands exhibit is an interactive experience in which children learn how farms are operated. They receive a basket to collect items from each station in the exhibit.

“First we have the silo, where kids take a handful of grain,” Miller said. “They learn that the grain will make pizza crust. Then they go to the coop and collect chicken eggs.”

She explained that the grain eventually will be placed in an animal trough to demonstrate that it also is used to feed livestock. The students also venture to an apple orchard, a dairy barn to learn how a cow is milked and a garden to pick plastic vegetables.

“The teacher always asks them which vegetable they think goes on a pizza,” Miller said. “Kids always think potatoes are a funny answer.”

At the end of their adventure, the children take their basket full of plastic goodies to the farmers market store, where they drop off everything they collected. This teaches them how farmers sell food to make money.

After completing Little Hands, students visit an animal barn where they learn about and pet animals, including goats and calves.

The final exhibit is the greenhouse. Here, students are able to pull their own carrot to taste, sample other vegetables and plant a tomato or basil seed to take home with them.

“When they’re finished, they actually get to go over to the Farm Bureau building and make little pizzas,” Miller said.

According to DeCamp, state fair field trips such as the Farm to Pizza experience have been around since 2007.

“The State’s Largest Classroom has a variety of programming that we offer, and it’s all through the lens of agriculture,” she said.

DeCamp said that this fall there will be a revamped series of field trips, thanks to the Glass Barn that soon will be opening.

“The Glass Barn is kind of the turning point because we have distance education capabilities with that building,” she said. “There’s a theater there where youth can go, and we can virtually connect with experts throughout the agriculture industry. We can bring experts in distantly to talk to the kids, and the students can actually interact with the presenter.”

Fairgrounds coordinators plan to have field trip programming for four months during the fall, and the vision is to offer educational experience for all grade levels in the near future.

“My personal goal for the State’s Largest Classroom is to educate any youth that comes out to the grounds about agriculture,” DeCamp said.

“Because that’s what we do here, that’s our foundation. As we go through the planning process, our main focus is every time someone steps off of the campus, they go away with something about agriculture.”