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Virtual Tours Bring Dairy Farms to the Classroom

There’s a new way for classrooms to take field trips, thanks to technology. Instead of bringing kids to the farm, we’re bringing dairies to a school near you.

In schools nationwide, it isn’t always possible for students to take educational field trips due to time or funding constraints and transportation logistics. These field trips are missed among teachers and students alike, as they can play an integral part of the learning process. Field trips are also one of the best ways to learn about agriculture.

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“Field trips help students see, experience and learn about agriculture straight from the source. Students love the opportunity to experience something new, and teachers welcome the opportunity for a guest to share with their class,” says Jessica Jansen, Executive Director for Oregon Agriculture in the Classroom Foundation.

Thanks to technology, there is a new way to learn about agriculture without ever having to board a school bus. It’s as simple as connecting via a smartphone and laptop for a virtual tour.

Recently, the Oregon Dairy and Nutrition Council partnered with Oregon Agriculture in the Classroom to host a virtual field trip at Rickreall Dairy. “It is incredibly important in my industry to educate students about what we do on a dairy farm,” says Louie Kazemier, owner of Rickreall Dairy, who also hosts traditional field trips every spring for more than 1,500 people yearly. “It gives students an opportunity to learn about where their food comes from, and also encourages them to think about career opportunities in agriculture.”

Agriculture in the Classroom, a nationwide educational program, is designed to help students develop an awareness and understanding that agriculture is the source of our food, clothing, shelter and other essentials. “At Oregon Agriculture in the Classroom we are passionate about connecting academic concepts to agricultural topics, and virtual farm field trips are a great way to do just that,” says Jansen. “We’re providing students the opportunity to witness new and exciting topics while showing them how this connects to what they are learning in the classroom.”

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For a dairy virtual tour, teachers sign up though the Agriculture in the Classroom website. A limited number of classrooms can sign up, and the first tour was booked in less than 24 hours. A week prior to the tour, the classroom receives a sensory box to explore items that they will view during the tour. For dairy farming, they focus on items that students can touch and smell like alfalfa, grain, and ear tags.

There are opportunities to learn about STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) though virtual tours. Whether it’s the math of converting pounds of milk into gallons, or the science of animal nutrition, STEM learning opportunities are abundant on a dairy farm.

“Through a field trip we provide students and educators context and relevancy with examples of why it’s important to know math, science and other content areas. The math alone on a dairy farm is extensive and helping students see how important it is and it being used is priceless for students,” says Jansen.

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The tours are filmed live using Zoom videoconferencing, but there are other platforms that could be used as well. “We recently brought 500 3rd through 5th graders through our barns in a little under an hour just by using Zoom,” says Kazemier, “and not only do they get to hear me explain what they are seeing on the screen, but they also get to ask their own questions in real-time.”

“One of my goals at the Oregon Dairy and Nutrition Council is to make it as easy as possible for dairy farmers to share their farms with students,” says Stacy Foster, Industry Relations and Communications Manager at ODNC. “Dairy farmers are incredibly busy. Virtual tours provide an opportunity for us to reach across the state of Oregon to hundreds of students in only one hour.”

Kazemier also appreciates that virtual tours can educate beyond traditional field trips. “There are places on a dairy farm that we would never go with students due to concerns of liability, biosecurity and cleanliness. With the virtual tour, we can literally give classrooms a “backstage pass” to our facility. They get to walk where the cows walk, and get up close and personal with our animals,” says Louie Kazemier.

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“While virtual farm field trips shouldn’t be a replacement for all farm field trips, it’s a great way to reach students who might not ever have the opportunity for a field trip,” says Jansen. Agriculture in the Classroom has plans to continue the program, with dairy and other agriculture sectors. “We’ll be planning two more dairy field trips, a series of two ranch-related tours this spring and a few crop-related experiences. Interested teachers can sign up for updates on our website.”

RELATED LINKS:

Virtual Farm Field Trip at Rickreall Dairy 

Calf Barn Virtual Field Trip at Rickreall Dairy

Funny Questions, Serious Impacts on Dairy Tours

Fresh off of the school bus, wide-eyed youngsters set foot on a dairy farm for the very first time. They’re taking in all of the sights, and yes, the smells.

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The farmer welcomes the students to her dairy and asks, “Do you know where milk comes from?

”Their most common answer? “The grocery store!”

This response shouldn’t come as a surprise when you consider that 98% of the U.S. population are generations removed from the farm. Tours are an excellent way to better inform and educate students about something that directly affects them and their families every day: where their food comes from.

“Most of the kids have never been on a farm. They have never seen farm animals in person,” said Melissa Collman, a dairy farmer in Boring, Oregon. “And even though our dairy isn’t very far away, we are miles apart as far as what they have experienced in life.”

As you might imagine, dairy farm tours can also be a source of humor, so we asked several Oregon dairy farmers and tour guides to tell us about some of the funny things they’ve heard or experienced while leading a tour.

JAMIE BANSEN, FOREST GLEN JERSEYS

Jamie and her dog, Olive, recently hosted a large group including students who had never set foot on a farm, let alone a dairy farm. Like a quick draw in the Old West, these middle schoolers quickly reached for their smartphones to snap photos and video along the way.

Students were amazed that manure is beneficial as a source of energy, bedding and fertilizer. “So wait, cow poop can make electricity and be sold for money?” a student asked. His serious question quickly devolved into laughter as a cow demonstrated the first step of that process.

After one of the girls expressed surprise about how quiet and happy the cows seemed, she decided, “I don’t want to go back to school. I want to pet cows all day.”

STACY FOSTER, RICKREALL DAIRY

“They love to tell me stories about their mom’s, cousin’s, friend’s cow that they saw once,” said Stacy.

Kids have told her they want to live at her dairy and become a farmer. They also want to bring calves home … until they’re reminded that they soon turn in to large cows.

“Some are amazed that we only have cows on our farm, since the only other farmer they know is Old McDonald,” she said. When the kids ask to see the other animals, like chickens, her answer makes the parent chaperones laugh. “Those animals don’t like to be milked, so they live on a different farm.”

CASEY SCHOCH, SCHOCH DAIRY AND CREAMERY

“On one of our tours, a little boy told me a cow joke,” said Casey. “What do you call a cow that has had her baby? De-calf-inated!

”Many of the kids ask to see the brown cows that make the chocolate milk, she said, but followed that it isn’t just the kids who ask funny questions.

“I actually had a mom ask me in all seriousness why we don’t milk the bulls,” said Casey, “I then tried to explain that similar to human females, only female cows have the correct parts for producing milk.”

MELISSA COLLMAN, CLOUD CAP DAIRY

Beyond the innocent and funny questions like whether boy cows make milk, Melissa expressed concern that students often echo some bizarre myths about dairy farming spread on social media and blog posts.

A student approached Melissa on a tour about rumors he heard about strange ingredients in milk. “So I milked a cow in front of this little boy, and he got to see for himself,” she said. “He was shocked.”

“It’s really important that we as farmers help educate consumers and future generations,” she said. “The funny questions and comments I hear on farm tours just reaffirm that any time we spend with the kids is time well spent.”

Catch a glimpse of some children discovering a dairy farm for the very first time in the video below.

 

Adopt a Farmer Program Includes Oregon Dairies

Each year, Oregon dairy farmers participate in a program called Adopt a Farmer through Oregon Aglink to help promote agriculture through educating middle school students. Five Oregon dairy farm families are currently participating in this year’s program giving students the opportunity to experience a dairy farm firsthand.

The five dairies include:

  • Harrold’s Dairy in Creswell
  • Cloud Cap Farms in Boring
  • Mayfield Dairy in Aurora
  • Veeman’s Dairy in St. Paul
  • Willamette Valley Cheese in Salem

In addition to offering tours of their farms, these dairy farmers visit their adoptive classroom two to three times throughout the school year to engage students in the science behind farming. They participate in activities related to soil, water, conservation, irrigation, genetics, the farm-to-table continuum and economics.

Learn more about one of Oregon’s dairy farmers, Melissa Collman of Cloud Cap Farms and her participation in the program.

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RELATED LINKS:

Adopt a Farmer

Dairy Meets Classroom: Melissa Collman of Cloud Cap Farms

Cloud Cap Dairy, Boring, OR

Cloud Cap Dairy on Facebook

Cloud Cap Dairy on Twitter

Cloud Cap Dairy on Instagram