A sunny day at the farm
By Nick Longworth
It isn’t every day that a fourth grade class gets to see where their milk comes from.
On Tuesday, May 27 two different groups of Park Rapids fourth grade students (one at 11:15 a.m. and another at 12:30 p.m.) rode their bikes toward a day filled with hands-on learning about both bike safety and also where the dairy products they consume come from.
Students took off on their bikes (with helmets, of course) down the Heartland Trail to Dorset for a picnic lunch. Along the way, they learned lessons about riding together in a group, exercise and bike safety.
But on their way back to school, the learning wasn’t over yet.
A detour took them to Leo and Lynn Gartner’s dairy farm for more hands-on learning – this time about dairy farming and agriculture.
“This all started back in March with Ag Day in the classroom. We went into their classroom along with several other presenters,” said Leo Gartner. He and wife Lynn both own the dairy farm, milking cows twice a day, 365 days a year – “even on Christmas.”
“We have done that for 15 or 20 years,” said Lynn. “The next step the teachers have them do is come visit the farm.”
On a hot, early summer day they did just that.
Rolling in on their bikes and helmets with sweat clearly visible, a group of 15 or so students showed up eager to learn about what it takes to put a fresh glass of milk on the table.
“Our main goal is to show how the animals are cared for; they’re treated humanely and are cared for very well. We have a commercial dairy farm with animals that produce milk, and we want to teach them what happens,” Lynn said. “Farming is very diverse. There are no two people that can do it the same, and there are no two places in the country that do it the same. California dairy farms are way different than Minnesota dairy farms.”
The main goal was not only to teach students about farming, but do so in an enjoyable way that kept attention spans closely tied to teachings, with parts of the day that included stops featuring live animals, a look at feed and hay, and finally a hay ride behind a tractor.
“We will show them what cows eat. We will start in the calf barn and different pens and show them where the milk cows are, and where the milk is stored. The cows are healthy. Our main goal is to treat the cows well and produce a good, quality product,” Lynn said.
Both Lynn and 4th grade teacher Tina Ridlon see a much larger benefit in the special day out of the classroom than simply a bike ride outdoors and a visit to a farm.
“It’s great to get them out, and be able to teach bike safety in person while we are riding, and then also be able to visit an actual functioning farm as well,” said Ridlon, whose 4th grade class was the first group to visit the farm on that day.
“It’s getting outside and it doesn’t involve an Xbox; it’s a field trip day of learning and exercise,” Ridlon said.
“These are our future consumers, and they have to know where their food comes from. There are so many people that are removed from the farm that think all their food comes from the grocery store; they don’t know how it gets there,” Lynn said. “It’s really important to know where your food comes from. This is not part of their curriculum or anything; this is a fun day. If they come away with something, that’s the benefit.”
“We want them to have fun, and maybe learn a little something too,” she added.