SALINA, Kan. (AP) - Salina-area advocates for agriculture are making an extra effort to teach young students about farming and ranching, saying that too many of today's youngsters don't know enough about how their food is produced.

The group takes animals, plants and seeds to the classrooms, shares weekly emails and generally works hard to bring knowledge of farming into the classrooms, The Salina Journal reported (http://bit.ly/sBQJMO).

"We're gonna lose our industry if we don't educate," said Pete Meagher, a farmer-rancher from eastern Saline County who also teaches woodworking at Salina Central High School.

Meagher trades emails every week with teachers and students in several Salina schools, discussing general farm happenings such as the calving season in the spring and wheat planting in the fall. He visits Schilling Elementary and Oakdale Elementary regularly to familiarize students with agriculture.

The extra education is needed to return a general understanding about food production to the public, Meagher said.

"We've got people in Washington who are completely clueless about what goes on at the farm," he said.

Last Thursday, a young bull calf was the center of attention for 66 fourth-graders from Schilling, who fed it, petted it and learned about cows from its owner, Connie Cox-Dorf, a farmer-rancher near Assaria. The students found the exercise fun, but it also combined several subjects, among them math, science, politics and geography. After the Schilling visit, the calf was hauled to Oakdale Elementary School, where it was introduced to three classes.

Meagher and Cox-Dorf help with Ag Day, an education program staged every September by Farm Bureau and other agencies for Saline County fourth-graders. But Meagher felt a more personal approach was needed "to reach some of our urban kids and teach them a little something about farming in general."

The farmer connection is important because the students' lack of general knowledge can be surprising, said Anne Abell, a teacher at Schilling.

For example, Abell once asked some students how wheat becomes bread.

"They thought airplanes flew over the fields, sucked up the wheat and dropped it onto Dillons, and Dillons makes the bread," Abell said.

Since September, she has brought in soybean plants for the students to touch and taste. They talked about combines, planted wheat in a pan and watched it grow, learning several lessons along the way.

Meagher also stresses that producers treat their animals humanely.

Some people believe that cattle producers are "just mean to animals, and we're not," Meagher said. "We take probably better care of our animals than we do ourselves."

It's easy to forget that "our kids all live in town. They don't have any concept" that Salina is surrounded by food production that is distributed worldwide, Abell said. Only a few of the students at Schilling and Oakdale have grandparents who farm.

Abell said some of the students have no interest in agriculture, but start paying attention when she activates a blog or Meagher discusses the technology used in agriculture, such as global positioning systems and auto-steer tractors.

Spreading the word is important to farmers, Meagher said.

"If nothing else, we're gonna go down with a fight."