Field Trip With a Double Yield

TIMES STAFF WRITER

For 68 Buena Park fourth-graders, the expression "field trip" took on new meaning Wednesday.

The students at Raymond Temple Elementary School, who have been studying Cesar Chavez and the history of migrant farm labor in California, got a taste of what it's like to be a farm worker, if only for an hour, as they gleaned string beans from an Irvine field.

"I actually think it's kind of fun," said Rebecca Gottfried, 9, echoing the prevailing sentiment as she and three friends happily plucked the long beans and dropped them into plastic bags.

But Rebecca changed her tune when asked how it would be to work in a field from sunrise to sunset, day after day.

"That would be kind of hard work all day," she conceded. "I'd do it for a little bit, but not all day."

"That would be hard," agreed Katie Stewart, 10.

The Buena Park students are among 1,000 Orange County fourth-graders getting hands-on experience picking crops and helping feed the hungry. All the beans they picked were donated to the Second Harvest Food Bank in Orange.

Dubbed the Orange County Cesar Chavez Day Initiative, the new program is a collaborative effort of the Orange County Department of Education and Volunteer Center Orange County, which received a grant from the state Department of Education to inaugurate the program March 28.

The program will run until the end of June. But the grant has been renewed to include 1,000 more students between July and December, and plans are to offer it year-round, said Leland McGraw, coordinator for the Youth Connection at Volunteer Center Orange County.

"This ties into what they're doing in the classroom," McGraw said as the students filled their bags. "It's not just picking string beans."

While the students learn about Chavez and California agriculture in class, she said, the field trip enables them to simulate migrant working conditions.

"Most fourth-graders see food on their table and in the grocery store, but they don't understand the work and the labor that goes into the harvesting of that food so that it gets there," she said.

And by donating the beans to the food bank, she said, they are also learning the value of service.

At the end of their work in the field, the youngsters participated in a question and answer session with half a dozen students from Cesar Chavez High School in Santa Ana, who asked them what they had learned from their experience in the field and in their classroom discussions about the fabled farm labor leader.

"There's nothing to promote understanding like doing it," said elementary school Principal Linda Rader, who joined the students in the field.

Friday, to add to the lesson, a migrant farm worker will visit the students' classroom to tell her personal story and answer questions.

On Wednesday, though, the students were happy just to be outside picking beans.

And they couldn't wait to get to work, excitedly edging closer to the field before Sam Caruthers of Second Harvest gave them the go-ahead.

They quickly spread out all over the three-acre field and were soon competing to see who could fill the most bags, which they dumped into a gray bin.

In the end, they picked nearly 700 pounds of beans--enough, said Caruthers, to feed almost 2,800 people.

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