Students Discover Dairy Through Adopt A Cow Program - Cowsmo

Students Discover Dairy Through Adopt A Cow Program

In classrooms throughout the United States (and even outside the country), the usual class pets of goldfish and gerbils are moving aside for Holstein and Jersey cows. Discover Dairy established the Adopt a Cow program in 2011 and their outreach continues to grow.

The program was developed thanks to a staff member’s son’s second grade class. Emily Barge, the communications and marketing manager with the Center for Dairy Excellence Foundation, shared that this particular classroom adopted a jaguar from Africa. The staff member thought if a classroom can adopt a jaguar, why not a cow? Discover Dairy saw this idea as a great option to expand their work, and the program began.

The Dairy Excellence Foundation manages Discover Dairy, an educational series which provides lessons designed for grades 3-5 and 6-8. The lessons include activities, worksheets, reading materials and videos, and are available to anyone interested in providing dairy education. According to its website, Discover Dairy meets Common CORE standards for math, science and reading.

The Adopt a Cow program runs adjacent to a traditional school year. The initial host farm and calf announcement is sent in October with information and updates provided close to monthly. Barge stated on off-months, the program provides corresponding materials such as a farm tour video. Twice a month, groups receive extra lessons and activities. Towards the end of the school year, participants are able to be part of a live chat with the host farm and calf.

Discover Dairy is based in Pennsylvania, but makes its impact globally. Barge reported that 40,500 classrooms are enrolled in the free Adopt a Cow program for the 2022-23 school year which impacts 1.2 million students. Classrooms are represented in all 50 states as well as in 55 countries. The 33 contributing farms are spread throughout the United States and Barge stated they make an attempt to match participants with a cow near their area.

“There are 60 classrooms in Minnesota enrolled in the Adopt a Cow program,” Barge stated. Minnesota also is home to one of the participating farms in the program.

Tauer Dairy, located in Brown County, Minn., has been involved in the program twice over the past several years. A 2022 Farm Family of the Year, the Tauers have about 275 Holsteins and also farm about 500 acres — mainly alfalfa and corn.

Not usually apt to name their calves, “Peaches” was their first calf involved in the Adopt a Cow program in 2017-18, and “Pearl” was their most recent in 2020-21. Angie Tauer shared the Discover Dairy organization has been great to work with.

Tauer, also a middle school science teacher at St. Mary’s in Sleepy Eye, Minn., said a favorite part of her involvement was connecting with the students. “Not every kid gets to see a farm.” She stated it was fun to put videos together of the farm and answer the students’ questions. “The best way to teach people is just be real,” she shared.

With a passion for ag promotion, Tauer also loves making connections with other cultures. Since 2010, the family has housed interns through the University of Minnesota’s MAST program. (MAST brings young people from around the world to train for 3-18 months in greenhouses, farms, research labs, and wineries, where they learn new skills, improve their English, and experience American life.) Tauer said she enjoys that her and her husband’s two children have been able to grow up with this unique experience.

While the majority of the classrooms Tauer Dairy was paired with in 2020-21 were from the central Minnesota area, the farm was previously connected with classrooms in Oregon and Washington, as well as an inner-city school in San Diego, Calif.

 “The program has grown exponentially,” Barge said, especially noting the increased interest due to the Covid pandemic. She shared teachers were looking for virtual options to engage students, and homeschooling parents were looking for activities for their children. Barge also stated a lot of nursing home and assisted living facilities signed up for the program during that time as well.

Since 2020, the program has continued to steadily grow. For Valentine’s Day, Discover Dairy held a “Most Kissable Calf” poll. Over 1.5 million votes later, the crowned winner out of the 84 calves was a Holstein named Willow.

Barge has been with the Dairy Excellence Foundation for about four years. She admitted the most meaningful aspect of the program has been the impact it’s making on the classrooms. “I’ve always loved education.” Through the Adopt a Cow program, Barge said students are able to learn about an industry they may have never been exposed to before as many students come from urban areas. Barge explained farmers often have an idea what stores their cows’ milk is going to and what brand will be supplying it. That knowledge helps a student make a closer ag connection the next time they go to a grocery store.

Barge also enjoys seeing the creative things teachers come up with to incorporate into the lessons. An example Barge gave is the implementation of a growth chart. It provides the visual of cows being different sizes. There’s a universal message to be learned that everyone is different and an individual.

This year, the Adopt a Cow program is a part of 200 Spanish-speaking classrooms. Barge stated those classrooms are paired with a farm with a Spanish-speaking contact, so they are able to connect during the spring live chat.

For many of the elderly populations residing in facilities, agriculture was a big part of their upbringing. Barge shared that many residents involved in the program had memories of growing up on a farm or an ag connection. The program resurfaced past times, even for some dealing with memory loss.

Barge notes Adopt a Cow would not be possible without the partnership of 13 dairy organizations throughout the United States. Minnesotans participating in Adopt a Cow specifically have the Midwest Dairy Association to thank for their assistance in making the program available to the area.

Teachers and facilitators of a variety of programs — including 4-H, library and after-school programs — are eligible to sign up for the 2023-24 school year. Registration begins May 1. Interested parties can visit and submit their email address to receive more information.

Source: The Land / Laura Cole

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