Ask a child, "Where does milk come from?" and you're bound to hear a variety of answers. Sadly, many children today would answer, "From the grocery store."

(Our son, Dan, thinks just about everything comes from the grocery store. One of the wheels fell off his tractor the other day; after he lost it, he asked me, "Mama, you go to the grocery store and get me a new wheel?" I wish it were that easy.)

A more encouraging response to the question of milk's origin would be, "From cows." Some farm kids might even answer, "From the bulk tank." If you ask Dan where milk comes from, he'll quickly chirp, "From the milk man! The milk man brings me more chocolate milk."

I'm not sure how Dan developed this belief, because we talk about the cows giving us milk and he thanks the cows for the milk. But I can understand that it might be hard for a 3-year-old to figure out how the milk gets from the cow to the bulk tank.

The other day, Dan took his theory of commodity delivery a bit further. We were sitting on a hay bale talking about how the cows and the heifers and the calves eat hay. "The hay is in the haymow," he said to me, "and the hay bale man brings us some more hay bales." Apparently he doesn't remember watching us unload the wagons last summer! All I could think was, someday you'll understand real well where more hay bales come from.

My other thought was, how do you come up with this stuff?

Not that long ago, we were sitting at the kitchen table eating eggs for breakfast and Dan piped up. "Thank you, chickens," he said. "Chickens give us eggs. The chickens squeeze the eggs out of their tummies."

Glen and I looked at each other with the 'Did you tell him that?' look. After we both shook our heads, we agreed that Dan's concept of egg production was pretty accurate given the fact that he'd never actually seen a chicken lay an egg or had it explained to him. Our only guess was that, after watching Dinah deliver her calf, he now understands that calves come out of cows' tummies and he must have figured that eggs (which turn into chicks) come out of chickens' tummies, too.

Dan's agricultural literacy at this age is entertaining. I find it enlightening and encouraging to watch his knowledge of farming grow. I have no doubts that by the time he goes to kindergarten he will be able to tell his teacher more about what happens on a farm than I'd probably want him to.

But what about the children who don't live on farms? The ones who think milk comes from the grocery store? How will they develop an understanding of and respect for the people, land and animals that produce their food (and so much more)?

I spent seven years giving classroom presentations to elementary students as a dairy princess and dairy ambassador. Those classroom visits were my favorite part of promoting the dairy industry. I loved teaching others about agriculture so much that my first college major was agricultural education. What could be better than the combination of two passions - agriculture and education?

Well, it turned out I wasn't so much interested in teaching teenage boys how to weld (even though I did pretty darn well in my college shop class) as I was in teaching consumers about food production. So, I said goodbye to ag education as a college major, but I never lost my desire to help people learn about agriculture.

And, as I've learned since college, the best way to help people understand food production is to let them experience it for themselves. No textbook or video or classroom presentation can compare to visiting a real, working farm. That's not to say classroom agricultural education isn't important, but consider this: how would a pilot ever learn to operate an airplane if his only education was in a classroom? I realize most people aren't interested in learning how to operate a farm, but they should at least know what real farms and real farm animals look like. (The portrayal of farms and farm animals in most children's storybooks and the media is dismally outdated.)

That's why raising my children on a farm and welcoming visitors to our farm means so much to me. It's a chance for me to once again do what I love most - teach people about farming using the sights, sounds and smells of a real farm as teaching aids.

Helping people experience farming firsthand is also why I'm crazy about my work with the Stearns County Breakfast on the Farm Committee. Excuse the bias, but I'm convinced that Breakfasts on the Farm and other events that bring consumers to working farms are the best way to teach consumers about how their food is produced.

As farmers, we have an awesome opportunity, and, some would say, responsibility, to help consumers develop an understanding of and appreciation for the people, land, and animals that produce their food by allowing our farms to be classrooms and telling our stories. Every child in this country should be able to correctly answer the question, "Where does milk come from?"

Sadie and her husband, Glen, milk 70 cows near Melrose, Minn., with help from their 3-year-old son, Dan, and their infant daughter, Monika. When she's not farming, she's writing for the Dairy Star. Sadie can be reached at gsfrericks[at]meltel.net.