(March 16) TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — The produce industry and other facets of agriculture could be long-term winners through a new educational program launched March 16 by the Florida Department of Education and the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.

More than 40,000 elementary school children were targeted during the inaugural Agriculture Literacy Day when an army of volunteers took part in a one-day program to read one of two designated books about agriculture to students as part of National Agriculture Week.

Kindergarten students heard "Tops and Bottoms" by Janet Stevens, a book about a bear and a rabbit competing to grow vegetables.

Third through fifth-grade classes heard "Farming" by Ann Love and Jane Drake, a story about two farm kids who compare their vegetables and cattle ranch operations.

The one-day session, which is expected to be an annual event, was organized by Florida Agriculture in the Classroom Inc., a non-profit organization that is funded by the sale of Florida's specialty auto tags for agriculture.

Scott Emerson, chairman of Gainesville-based Florida Ag in the Classroom, said Agriculture Literacy Day "is a great way to teach kids about where their food and fiber comes from."

Florida Agriculture Commissioner Charles Bronson, a former agriculture teacher, said education of the younger generation is important for the future of agriculture in the state and nation.

"Children today are several generations removed from the farm," Bronson said. "We need to use events like this to help teach children that their food and fiber doesn't come from the supermarket."