Western Dairy pairs kids with farmers through Adopt a Farmer
November 4, 2017
When kids tour his family dairy farm, Josh Cleland introduces them to Sam, a 12-year-old retired brown Swiss cow.
"She's my favorite classroom instrument," Cleland said.
Cleland is one of five dairy farmers involved with Western Dairy Association's Adopt a Farmer program. He's worked with the program since it launched four years ago.
The program connects dairy farmers with local schools so kids can learn about the dairy industry from someone who's actually in it.
There are six schools and five dairy farmers in the program this year. The program is still fairly new, and Kristin Tucker, program manager for curriculum development and consumer events for Western Dairy, said the availability of farmers is a factor.
With the consistent year-round schedule dairy farmers have, even setting exact times can be hard. So each farmer can be as active with a school as they can, and how that looks can be different.
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Cleland, for example, made videos students can watch. He was able to make them on his time, but he said they're also a great tool so the kids can come up with questions before heading to his farm in Erie, Colo., for a tour where they get to meet Sam and some calves, too.
"I let every student bottle feed a baby calf," he said. "We let them wear gloves and they get all sticky with saliva and get kisses from the calves, and they just get a kick out of it."
The other farmers involved this year are Rebecca Hirsch, Carol Hammel, Josh Docheff and Kristie Docheff. Hammel is the only southern Colorado farmer in the program, and works with Cotopaxi Elementary in Cotopaxi and Heurfano Schools in Walsenburg.
The rest of the farmers are in the northern Colorado area, working with schools in the Weld RE-4 School district, which encompasses Windsor and Severance.
Tucker said the willingness and availability of farmers is a large piece of whether or not a school is in the program. But first a school needs to apply to be part of the program.
Cleland said that's how he got started. He heard about the program before it officially started and knew it was something he'd like to be part of.
Cleland is a third-generation farmer. His grandfather, John, started the business with 27 cows in 1964. Cleland officially took the reins from his dad, Gary, in 2010.
It's his livelihood.
That's why it's important to him to teach people, in these cases school kids, about what dairy farmers do. He doesn't want people to be misinformed about dairy operations.
For him it's personal.
"A lot of people not just kids — their parents — have lost touch with where their food comes from, and more importantly in my mind, there are so many videos and stereotypes depicting dairies as evil corporations … I take that to heart. I don't like that because," Cleland said, "it's my livelihood."
While the individual dairy farmers aren't at their assigned schools on a regular basis, Western Dairy helps teachers by providing a guide for lesson plans so children can learn about dairy operations and products throughout the school year.
It's not supposed to be just a one-time lesson.
"We try to make the program meet school needs," Tucker said. "We're not changing the program content-wise. We're making sure that the program can be integrated into what they teach."
There are guidelines teachers can implement however they see fit, but the plans include most subjects and can be used to meet academic requirements of the schools.
The application depends on the imagination of the teacher.
Tucker said she's seen a school write letters to the farmer as part of an English unit, and calculating dairy production can easily be used in math lessons.
Each year schools have a kickoff event where the students can meet the farmer and learn more about the industry as a whole.
Range View Elementary in Severance, Colo., recently held an event where students learned what happens on a dairy, about pasteurization and how to make butter. The students heard from a representative from Longmont Dairy and a former dairy farmer. Plus they met Hirsch, the dairy farmer the school "adopted" who will show the students her farm at the end of the school year.
"I just wanted to help the local kids learn about our local farming," Hirsch said.
And that's part of what Sam does when kids visit Cleland's dairy.
"Depending on what kid she likes, she might lick their face off," said Cleland, who also mentioned he'll use her to explain anatomical properties of cows. "She's just a fun tool because she's like a dog. The kids really enjoy meeting her."
— Fox is a reporter for The Fence Post. Connect with her with story ideas, questions or comments at firstname.lastname@example.org or (970) 392-4410. Connect with her on Twitter @FoxonaFarm.