SOUTH SALT LAKE — To hear Cari Tagge tell it, farming is the best job ever.
“We get to drive a tractor. We get to be outside. I get to play in the dirt. I get to climb trees. And the most important thing is, I get to pick all this fruit and vegetables and bring them to you for you to eat,” Tagge told sixth graders at Lincoln Elementary School on Tuesday.
But mostly, it’s a lot of work cultivating, harvesting and selling the fruits and vegetables that eventually land on Utahns’ dinner tables, with some of the food purchased at Tagge’s Famous Fruit and Veggie Farm’s roadside stands or at farmers markets.
Tagge and her husband, Thayne, joined Utah Gov. Gary Herbert, Utah Agriculture Commissioner Kerry W. Gibson and family farmer Tyson Roberts at the Granite District elementary school to teach students about Utah agriculture and reflect on Utahns’ collective gratitude for the harvest.
While Utah farmers and ranchers fill people’s plates and bellies, their work is also a key economic driver, Herbert said.
The governor quizzed the students about how much agriculture contributes to Utah’s economic activity.
“One million dollars,” one boy volunteered.
“More than that,” Herbert replied. “Think of a big number.”
After a few more guesses, the governor told the students that agribusiness produces $21 billion in economic activity annually.
“Fifteen percent of the GDP, gross domestic product for the state of Utah, comes from agriculture. It’s a big business and we’re glad because we all like to eat,” he said.
Herbert used the occasion to sign a proclamation designating Tuesday as Harvest Gratitude Day in Utah and to acknowledge the hard work of Utah ranchers, farmers and other agribusinesses.
Gibson, who is a dairy farmer, asked the students to name their favorite dairy product. Milk was a resounding favorite, followed by ice cream and cheese.
One student volunteered “hamburgers.”
“At some point, the dairy cows become hamburger instead of milk, and that’s really tasty. But of course any good hamburger has cheese on it, right? And bacon,” Gibson said.
Agriculture plays an essential role in the economy, but also in people’s lives, he said.
“Food is the one thing that we can’t live without, food and water. We are so grateful to represent the good farmers and ranchers in our community who grow our food for us every day,” Gibson said.
Roberts, a sixth-generation farmer in Layton, said when he was in elementary school, his family grew onions.
“We used to grow 100 acres of onions. That’s 100 football fields. Is that a lot of onions? That’s a whole bunch of onions. I used to get out of school to harvest onions,” he said.
He showed the students dried cobs of corn grown on the Roberts’ farm, explaining they could just pop them into the microwave for a snack.
Roberts said his older children help out on the farm, rising at 5:30 a.m. during the summer to help pick corn.
“My kids are really happy when school starts in the fall because they don’t have to get up so early,” Roberts said.