It wasn’t the sights but the smells that stood out first to elementary students who turned out for Johnny Appleseed Day at Heritage High School on Thursday, Sept. 9.
Before long, however, it was the aroma of apples and apple pie, and the excitement of petting bulls, holding chickens and experiencing farm life that raised the excitement level of the students.
Heritage High School agriculture teacher Judy Pearson said the event started four years ago when a friend of hers, Middlesettlements kindergarten teacher Jill Sharpe, asked if Pearson and her colleagues and students could put together a Johnny Appleseed program for the kindergarten students. “We pick apples from our orchard, and we show them how to make apple butter. They see the whole process from picking apples, to making them into apples pies to eating the pies,” she said.
The students also toured the barn where the high school students raise livestock. “We like them to see all of our animals,” Pearson said. “We want them to see all of our agriculture program.”
This year more than 100 students from Middlesettlements, Lanier and Montvale elementary schools attended the event. “This is the fourth year, and they love it. The teachers call every year,” she said. “They see the whole operation, and they get to go on a hayride, which they love.”
Middlesettlements has attended every year while other schools have rotated in and out. The Agriculture Program also does a program in the Spring for area elementary students.
Almost as many parents turned out as children, Pearson said.
Alice Bradburn of Blount County came with her son Caleb, a Lanier Elementary kindergarten student. “They love the apples,” Bradburn said.
Caleb didn’t say anything negative about the apples, but he was sure what he enjoyed most. “Riding the hayride,” he said.
David Keith of Blount County watched as his son Kyle, a Montvale Elementary kindergarten student, checked out the livestock. “I think it’s great. It is good for any child to see where Mother Nature started. Anybody can walk into a grocery store, but it is a whole different story to see crops grow and fruit on a tree,” he said.
Kyle knew what he enjoyed most. “The apple pies and the playground,” he said.
Ana Case of Blount County watched as her son Cameron Duncan, a Lanier Elementary kindergarten student, checked out the animals. “It’s pretty neat. It’s very important because it gets them interacting with other kids and with the animals and makes them want to get outside more,” she said.
Tonya Boyd of Blount County was at the school with her daughter, Desyre Boyd, a Lanier kindergarten student. “She loves animals so she was excited,” Tonya Boyd said. “She came home and said, ‘You’ve got to come with me.’”
Justin Varner of Blount County was with his daughter Mikila Varner, a Montvale Elementary kindergarten student. “It’s good for them. It’s good to get them out of the classroom and let them do different activities,” he said.
Tiffany Holder watched as her daughter Tristin Holder enjoyed the apple pies. “I think it’s a great thing, just being able to have this experience. She’s never been to a farm,” Tiffany Holder said. “I grew up on a tobacco farm so this is a good bonding experience, and it’s a fun way to learn.”
Cleon Hearon of Friendsville watched as his grandchild Dawson Wells enjoyed a fried apple pie. Seeing the farm operation shows the children the way most people lived years ago. “It goes back to our grandparents who raised their own food on farms,” he said.
Agriculture teacher John Waters watched as his high school students talked with the kindergarten students and introduced them to the animals. The Johnny Appleseed Day event grows each year, he said.
“The kids love it, and the high school students do, too. It’s their time to shine,” he said “This is their time to show what they know.”
Lucas Waters, a Heritage High junior and a nephew of John Waters, said it is important for the kindergarten students to see a working farm operation. “Many didn’t grow up on farms. Most think eggs and milk come Walmart,” he said. “They don’t really know what is involved.”
Jessie Brandner, a senior, said it is good for the students to come see what is going on in the agriculture program and to check out the facilities, including the 3-year-old barn on site at the school. “It’s good for them to see what we have going here at Heritage. We take great pride in what we do,” he said.
Jacob Grant, a junior, said the students were excited to meet the animals. “It’s the first time some have seen most of these animals, and this might be the first hay ride they’ve been on,” he said. “They really like Johnny Appleseed Day.”
Eric Watson, a junior, said, “It’s a good experience for them to get out of a book and get their hands on an animal and see what it is like on a working farm.”
Madialynne Cupp, a junior, was showing the kindergarten students one of the heifer cows and explaining the difference between beef cattle and dairy cows. “It’s a good experience for the kids. They love the animals. It’s fun, and I like it, too,” she said.
Amanda Robinson, a senior, showed the kindergarten students a bull. “The fun part is seeing their faces when they see something new like when the cow moos,” she said. “It’s cute.”
Agriculture teacher Mark Dowlen spent the morning stirring apples with a long wooden paddle as they cooked in a cast iron pot over an open fire. The students got to see where the apples were grown in an orchard near the high school baseball field.
Then they saw Dowlen as he stirred up the apples and watched as he and the high school students added cinnamon and sugar as the apples broke apart and became mash and then apple butter for the apple pies Pearson and other agriculture students made for the kindergarteners. The whole process takes about four to six hours.
“They think it’s pretty cool that we’re cooking over a fire. We show them how to be self-sufficient and teach them that they don’t have to buy all their food, that it is easy to grow and prepare your own food,” Dowlen said.