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Local News

A fresh farm breath of the great outdoors

Fourth-graders visit Halpin Dairy Farm, learn about farm life

SOUTH WILMINGTON – Fourth-grade Nettle Creek Elementary School students Lilliana Dunlap and Emma Geiss took handfuls of four types of feed given to calves on the Halpin Dairy Farm.

They held each one to their nose and took in a sniff, while Geiss smiled; Dunlap scrunched her face at the smell.

During the week of May 8 to 12, more than 1,200 fourth-grade students from Grundy County schools made the trek to the Halpin Dairy Farm outside Gardner to learn about farm life firsthand. The students have learned all year about agriculture in the Agriculture in the Classroom program, taught by Grundy County Farm Bureau Ag Literacy coordinator Yvonne Foss.

Students and teachers were able to learn from fifth-generation farmer Scott Halpin, as he welcomed the students each day to his family’s farm, the only milking dairy farm in the county.

“This area has declined in livestock with higher production of row crops. Without days like this, when we show real farm life, the average kid won’t
experience farm life,” Halpin said. “This definitely impacts the students. We see people who are 30 years
old who remember coming to our farm in fourth grade.”

The Agriculture in the Classroom program has been running for over 25 years, and the Halpin family has been a part of that education the entire way.

“I want the kids to know where the food comes from because so many think it just magically appears in the stores. This week, they are experiencing it firsthand and I hope it leaves an impression,” Halpin said. “I also want to show that farming is full time, we don’t have Christmas of Thanksgiving break. The cows need to be milked, even if it is Christmas.”

Grundy County Farm Bureau manager Victoria Wax organized six stations for groups to rotate during the two-hour field trip.

Halpin took students into his dairy barn to show where they stored the milk, talked about how much milk the cows produce and where it goes after it leaves the farm. Students were able to look inside the milk cooling tank and learn the steps to producing milk, including sanitizing the udders, milking and cleaning the cow.

He said the most asked question was why there was a metal comb-like bar above the cow. He explained to the students that it acts like a potty trainer for the cow, so it doesn’t move too far in its bed and poop where it sleeps. The students all made faces when he mentioned the cow may poop in its bed.

Russ Higgins of the University of Illinois Extension spoke to the students about calves and what the Halpins used to feed them. He had buckets of different types of feed for the students to smell and then pulled out a giant feeding bottle, which made the children giggle.

Doug Foss of the Grundy County Farm Bureau spoke about machinery and what types of machinery was used at this farm compared to farms that grow soybeans and corn. He showed the students a tractor from 70 years ago and modern tractors and explained the differences in modern technology.

“I liked learning how tractors have expanded, farms have expanded and people’s minds have expanded about farming,” Dunlap said.

The students then rotated to the barn, where Grundy County Farm Bureau member Tammy Halterman displayed a video on veterinary care and gave the kids vanilla ice cream for a snack.

To show how farmers made butter, Wax took cold glass jars out of an ice-filled cooler, poured an inch of whipping cream and shook the glass. She passed it around to each student and after five minutes, butter was formed. The students were able to try the butter on a cracker.

“I think it tasted like normal butter,” Minooka Elementary School student CJ Deckinga said. “I didn’t know how it was made; we always just buy it from the store.”

The final station was manned by Foss, who gave the kids three words and they had to make other words using the letters in the words. At the end of the field trip week, she would tally up the total words by each group and the ones with the most received a pizza party.

Wax and Foss said this trip wraps up what the students have learned over the past school year, and even though we live in smaller communities, most of the students are never encompassed in farming.

“We are rural, but so close to urban areas that most are removed from the farm. We want to make a difference for these kids. Most may grow up and move away to urban areas and not have these experiences,” Wax said.

The Grundy County Farm Bureau funds several programs and just received a $2,500 donation from the America’s Farmers Grow Communities program which is sponsored by the Monsanto Fund.

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