by Mary Swearingen, dairy nutrition consultant and Oregon Dairy Women member
Twenty years ago, I was in the third grade when my cousin (a county dairy princess at the time) visited my class to give a presentation — it was the same year milk became the Official State Beverage of Oregon. Twenty years later, I returned to read to three first grade classes at Mary Eyre Elementary School in Salem on April 12.
The opportunity was made possible by a literacy project organized by Oregon Agriculture in the Classroom. In all, 72 students listened attentively and discussed where our dairy products come from, how dairy is part of a well-balanced diet, and everything our farmers do to care for their cows.
I work as a nutrition consultant for a feed company in Harrisburg, and because the literacy project activity focused on nutrition, I brought feed samples with me and explained that I help farmers create balanced diets for their cows. Students got to see and smell alfalfa hay, flaked corn and almond hulls.
We talked about how cows are amazing at recycling byproducts, or leftovers from food production. I feel that it was important to volunteer for this year’s literacy project because the book answered the ever so popular question: does chocolate milk come from brown cows? A common misnomer among consumers, the book illustrates that all breeds of dairy cows produce white milk.
It was a really great opportunity to help bridge the gap between the farm and the classroom. After all, our milk and dairy products don’t just come from the dairy case. As a treat for all the students (and teachers) I brought 75 pints of chocolate milk with me, and the students all loved it.
At the end of the presentation, I opened the floor to questions and by far my favorite was from a concerned student asking, “in the middle of the day when the farmer is trying to sleep, doesn’t he get tired of hearing those cows moo all the time?”
I grew up as a city kid, but spent most of my school breaks working on my aunt and uncle’s dairy in Stayton picking berries and feeding calves. It didn’t take long to develop a passion and love of the farm, to see the hard work and effort it takes to dairy was quite literally a life-changing experience.
I went from one extreme to the other, wanting to be a teacher to Veterinary Medicine, and ultimately to animal nutrition. I got involved in 4-H Livestock my freshman year of high school and participated in the Oregon Dairy Women’s Dairy Princess Program. These experiences have led me to see the importance of educating our youth and advocating for our farmers and ranchers.
The Oregon Dairy and Nutrition Council proudly sponsors Oregon Agriculture in the Classroom’s 2017 Literacy Project. More information is available at oregonaitc.org/programs/literacy-project.