Updated: August 11, 2014 at 11:12 am
On a Friday morning, 12 kids are doing their chores. They don't make beds or tidy rooms as you might expect, but rather feed goats, collect fresh eggs and pester chickens under the hot morning sun.
It's the last day of this summer's Venetucci Farm's educational program Junior Farmhands, and the group is showing off their knowledge.
"What kind of horses are these?" prompts farm intern Sarah Beckwith.
"Draft horses," squeaks the chorus of 7- and 8-year-olds, before running off to the chicken coop.
Founded in 1936, Venetucci Farms is the long-standing, organic farm located 10 minutes southwest of Colorado Springs. This is the sixth summer Venetucci has offered educational children's programs, and Junior Farmhands is for the youngest age bracket. During the program, kids in grades 3-5 can learn the basics of life on the farm.
"It's all about having that enthusiasm and excitement about farms and where your food comes from," says David Rudin, education coordinator for Venetucci Farms and Pinello Ranch.
Back in the chicken coop, a canister of silvery flecks is poured into a tray on the ground.
"Who can tell me what these are for?" Beckwith asks.
Hands shoot up.
The tray contains crushed oyster shells, their silvery coatings reflecting the sun. The chickens eat them for calcium, so their eggs will have hardened shells.
"They help the chicken make the egg," says Ella Dorpinghaus, 8.
All of Venetucci's children's programs meet for five mornings, from 9 a.m. to noon. Farm Animals/Wild Animals is the next level, for children grades 4-7, and incorporates animal science and biology into the curriculum. Cooking with Kids is the culmination of all of those fundamentals and is for grades 5-8.
"They learn a little more, in a bit of a different way, each time," says Rudin.
Though the junior farmhands mostly focus on learning about animals, Rudin hopes more farming can be incorporated in the future. The neat rows of vegetables at Venetucci are too delicate for tens of grabby hands, so Rudin hopes to build an additional garden for the education programs, so kids can actively learn about growing their own food.
This week's junior farmhands are all girls except for one boy - a first in the program's six years. They've been instructed on chicken catching, and it proves to be one of the best activities of the morning.
Hands outstretched, they creep behind the unsuspecting chickens and scoop them up, holding their thumbs over the wings. The chickens oblige for a few seconds before wriggling free. Dorpinghaus steers clear of chicken catching. She would rather hang out with Lewis and Clark, the big, white sheepdogs.
Venetucci has long involved children with the farm. Pumpkins for Kids was started in the mid 1940's by Nick and Bambi Venetucci and has given away more than a million pumpkins to school children since. The catch, Rudin explains, is that the kids have to find a way to get the pumpkin out of the patch by themselves.
Aside from children's programs, Venetucci offers volunteer opportunitiesand sustainability classes, and you can buy Venetucci produce, meat and eggs at their farm stand on Saturdays, and at various farmers markets.
"We're really trying to connect people to the farm in as many different ways as possible," Rudin says.
The children's programs are popular: All of this summer's programs reached capacity and have waiting lists. Rudin says next summer's sign-ups will start in February, and he encourages early enrollment. This summer the program costs were $130 for Junior Farmhands and Farm Animals/Wild Animals and $140 for Cooking with Kids.
The best part of the day is at the very end. Cheeks red from the sun, water bottles almost empty, the kids cheer when Rudin announces that it's "freezer time," which involves putting all of the fresh eggs they've collected into the walk-in refrigerator.
They line up single file at the door.
"On your mark. Get set. Go," says Beckwith, opening the door. Everyone squeezes into the small room lined with egg cartons and boxes of produce. Nearly 20 degrees cooler, it's clear why it's the best part of the morning.
"Should we stay in here for the rest of the day?" Rudin asks.
"Yes!" is the resounding response.
For the junior farmhands, it's the little things that bring the most excitement.