Commentary: Hands-on experience shows how dairies contribute to the community
Efrain Valenzuela, the Dairy Council of California's mobile dairy classroom manager, talks with students at a California school.
As elementary school students throughout California settle back into school, one of California's oldest and most popular education programs gears up as well—the Dairy Council of California's mobile dairy classroom.
Each year, the mobile dairy classroom visits 300,000 students in the state and brings a live cow to schools, agriculture days and fairs to illustrate to kids the connection between agriculture and our food supply. The program not only exposes children to important lessons about agriculture, but it also serves as an ambassador for the dairy business by getting up close and personal with California's youth to tell dairy's story. With children increasingly removed from farm production, many kids think food grows in the grocery store or magically appears in the dairy case. The mobile dairy classroom helps them understand where their food comes from and why family farmers, ranchers and dairy producers play such an important role in their lives.
Supported by both dairy processors and producers, the mobile dairy classroom teaches children about the origin of milk and the family of dairy foods, dairy's nutritional value and its role in bone health, as well as the basic anatomy of a cow, information on the food it eats to stay healthy and the milking process. When I visit a school, I am always surprised how many students in a variety of grades do not know that the dairy foods they eat comes from cow's milk, let alone agriculture's role in providing many of the foods they enjoy.
Arguably, these types of lessons have never been so valuable. We are in a time where consumers care deeply about where their food comes from and how it is produced. They care about how animals are treated. And as we see more attention given to animal treatment issues, this is our opportunity to proactively educate consumers about how well farmers care for their animals.
For many students the visit by the mobile dairy classroom is the first time they ever came close to a live calf.
I feel privileged to be the one out in the field helping kids, their parents and their teachers understand how producers care for their cows and the positive contributions dairy farmers and milk processors make to the health and wellness of Californians.
When the mobile dairy classroom program originated in Los Angeles County in the 1930s, it was developed primarily to expose urban children to agriculture. Even today, many of the children we visit have never seen a live cow.
Over the years, the program has expanded to include both urban and rural areas with five mobile dairy classroom instructors and mobile truck units covering California.
Our expansion into rural communities has been particularly rewarding. At the end of a presentation, students really do walk away with a closer connection to their local agricultural community and they understand the contribution the local farms are making.
Through the mobile dairy classroom, which is offered free to California schools, the dairy industry is also making an important contribution to education.
After a presentation, teachers tell us they appreciate the hands-on experience for their students. Students not only see a live farm animal, but they also see milking equipment and the milking of a cow. Students also get the opportunity to pet a calf, which further helps to create a memorable experience.
The mobile dairy classroom also supports the Dairy Council of California's grade-specific classroom nutrition education materials that align with California state education standards and are free to the state's teachers.
Supporting programs like the mobile dairy classroom is a win for the consumer and a win for agriculture, particularly in this ever-changing marketplace.
From the local dairy farmer lending Dairy Council of California a cow for presentations to the industry's support of the program, together we are making an important contribution to our communities by teaching children how the food and beverages they eat at home with their families get from the farm to their dinner table.
(Efrain Valenzuela is the Dairy Council of California's mobile dairy classroom manager. For more information or to arrange for a mobile dairy classroom to visit a school near you, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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