Future Consumers

August 8, 2012 10:01 AM
Future Consumers

Student tours offer lifelong lessons to area students

If you’re walking around the World Dairy Expo grounds on Tuesday or Wednesday morning and find you have a little more spring in your step, some git-up in your giddyup or an unexplainable burst of energy and enthusiasm, don’t be alarmed. It might just be the company you’re keeping.

These first two mornings of Expo week are also school tour days. In any given year, 1,400 to 1,800 fourth and fifth grade students from approximately 60 classes and 30 area schools take part in an approximately three-hour-long tour.

The idea behind the school tours, which started in the early 1980s, is to give kids a better idea of where their food comes from and of how important dairying is to Wisconsin’s overall economy. "They’re mostly urban kids who don’t have a lot of contact with agriculture," says Kelly Bienfang, a World Dairy Expo staff member who coordinates the school tours. "In fact, for many of them, this tour is the only exposure they have."

Each tour, which usually includes 20 to 25 kids, a teacher or two and parent volunteer chaperones, is built around four stops on the Expo grounds. At the BouMatic milking parlor in one of the cattle barns, the kids learn about the milking process, milking equipment function, parlor sanitation and milk storage on the farm. In the Semex "Walk of Fame" tent, kids get an in-depth explanation of cattle genetics from company representatives.

On another leg of the tour, the students have a chance to view one of the breed shows in the Coliseum. In a school tour tent, they hear from representatives of the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board about the important role that dairy products play in nutrition and health.

The tours at Expo are led by 70 volunteers from a variety of backgrounds. "It’s a fantastic group," Bienfang says. "What they have in common is dedication and an understanding that the kids taking part in the tours today will be the people making purchasing decisions about food products in the future."

Fourth grade teacher Chris Eshun, of St. James Elementary School in Madison, has been bringing her classes to World Dairy Expo for the last 20 years. "A lot of our kids don’t really have any understanding of what happens on a farm or of how important agriculture is to the economy
in our state," Eshun says.

The commercial trade show is another favorite of the students. "A lot of the kids like the big farm equipment," she says. "And most of them are fascinated by the calf hutches. They try to imagine what it’s like for a baby calf to spend its first two months living in a hutch. That’s an opportunity for me to explain to them how much work is required to care for each calf."

In the weeks after the visit, Eshun has her students write reports about what they saw and did at Expo. "I’m absolutely convinced it does make an impression on them that they carry with them the rest of their lives. It’s the kind of thing that makes me feel good as a teacher," she says.

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