Squirting milk never gets old. That’s part of the hands-on draw of Picnic Day.
For the 100th time, the University of California, Davis, welcomed families, friends and the community to see what students are doing down on the University Farm. An estimated 50,000 visitors packed the campus Saturday as they experienced a taste of Aggie lifestyle.
From its traditional parade and pancake breakfast to racing dachshunds and robot building, this annual rite of spring is billed as the nation’s largest student-run event. With the theme of “a timeless Aggie tradition,” Picnic Day organizers pulled out all their campus has to offer, from its agricultural roots to “zero net energy” living.
“I think it’s amazing,” said volunteer Nav Chima, a third-year student representing WAAP (We Are Aggie Pride), a students-helping-students philanthropy. “It’s what UC Davis is all about. I’ve been going to Picnic Day since my freshman year. It made me really excited about going to UCD.”
Acronyms also were aplenty as Picnic Day visitors got to know hundreds of campus organizations.
“It’s a lot of work, getting everything together,” said biology major José Condor, a member of MAPS (Minority Association for Pre-Medical Students) , who was selling cold drinks and ice cream. “It’s a family day. People come together to enjoy a really beautiful day.”
Many visitors brought their dogs, too. For Picnic Day, pooches wore Aggie T-shirts or blue and gold bandanas. Hundreds of canines and their companions gathered to cheer (and bark) at the dachshund derby, the sheep dog trials and the Frisbee-catching contest, among several dog-friendly festivities.
Of course, the cows were popular, too. At the Department of Animal Science milking station, the line to grab an udder stretched more than a hundred people long.
“The goat line gets pretty long, too,” said Lisa Nash Holmes, a teaching coordinator in the Animal Science department. “People get excited (to milk). Some are a little shy at first, others go right at it. We give them a little schooling first, so nobody gets hurt – including the cows.”
Animal Science is still one of the university’s most popular programs, Holmes added. “We’ve got more than a thousand students in the department, and that’s just undergraduates.”
On Picnic Day, six mellow California cows showed as much patience as the eager would-be milkers. Professor Ed DePeters mentored his dairy science students as they demonstrated milking technique to visitors.
“We may not all go into farming, but we’re all exposed to agriculture,” said graduate student Kara Ortega, wearing an “I (heart) Milk” button. “People are getting more aware of where their food comes from. We always get good questions at this event; people want to learn more. Here, they see a different perspective of what they may have heard about food or farming.”
While touring the campus, alumni also saw how much this university has grown and matured. When the first Picnic Day was held in 1909, the campus was still known as the “University Farm.” Students all focused on agriculture.
Now, UCD has a national reputation for a wide range of sciences, arts and humanities. Hundreds of visitors milled around the Mondavi Center for Performing Arts, posing with the gigantic gong on its entrance plaza and occasionally giving it a thunderous ring. Nearby, patrons viewed plans for the Shrem Museum of Art, under construction.
Hundreds of visitors packed the Good Life Garden at the Robert Mondavi Institute for Wine and Food Sciences. They tasted honey, sampled olives and drank sudsy barley soda.
“We went through 4,000 tasting sticks,” said Amina Harris, executive director of the institute’s Honey and Pollination Center. “We’re actually running out of honey.
“Look at how many people are in this garden,” she added. “This was Robert Mondavi’s original vision, to get people excited (about food science). It works!”
A long line snaked out of the wine center as people waited for tours.
“Our hottest booth was the grapevine giveaway,” said fourth-year student Michelle Christensen, a volunteer for DEVO (Davis Enology and Viticulture Organization). “We went through hundreds in (90 minutes); chardonnay, pinot, cabernet, syrah. Unfortunately, we can’t legally hand out wine.
“People come to Picnic Day because they want to see what’s going on,” she added. “Most of all, it’s fun.”