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Commentary: Digital makeovers aid nutrition, agricultural literacy

Issue Date: November 11, 2020
By Tammy Anderson-Wise
Tammy Anderson-Wise
Virtual field trips and other digital activities offered by Dairy Council of California intend to allow schoolchildren learning at home to gain skills in nutrition and agricultural literacy.
Photo/Courtesy Dairy Council of California

The back-to-school season looked different this year for more than 6 million children who attend California public schools. With most school districts in the state adopting 100% online formats, children, parents, caregivers and educators must adjust to the new normal of distance learning.

Though the challenges are numerous—from the digital divide to parents now serving as de facto teacher's aides—it is critical that California schoolchildren continue to receive education not only in core areas such as math, science and English but also in areas that provide important enrichment and life skills, such as nutrition and agricultural literacy. This is especially true for early childhood, when understanding of where food comes from may be limited and students are establishing healthy eating habits that impact growth and development, academic success and lifelong health.

Nutrition education has been the backbone of Dairy Council of California for more than a century. What started as print-based classroom curriculum and live Mobile Dairy Classroom assemblies in schools has evolved to include a robust portfolio of online resources, including virtual farm tours, to teach about agricultural literacy and how to eat healthfully.

Like many of our friends in agriculture, we've adopted innovation as a core principle. This helps us maintain relevancy while ensuring children can continue to access nutrition education, which we believe is critical to supporting healthier communities. Though Dairy Council of California has been updating its curriculum and expanding its digital offerings on an ongoing basis, the pandemic expedited and expanded the ways in which we support distance learning.

Dairy Council of California now offers virtual field trips that teach students about dairy farming, including how milk, cheese and other dairy foods are produced, their journey from farm to table and their nutritional benefits.

The first stop on the 45-minute virtual field trip is the Mobile Dairy Classroom, where students learn about cows, from their anatomy to how they produce milk. Students can then zoom over to a real California dairy farm. There, students meet actual farmers and learn—through virtual experience—how dairy cows are fed and milked, how farmers care for their cows and the sustainability measures dairy farmers implement. The virtual field trip is hosted in real time, so students can see, experience and engage with Mobile Dairy Classroom instructors to ask questions as they arise.

Since its launch in April, more than 40,000 students have attended the online educational series that brings the farm experience home.

Dairy Council of California now offers a variety of free online nutrition resources and agricultural literacy programs—including games, activities and curriculum—to help educators teach nutrition education and keep students involved while learning remotely. For example, our popular interactive MyPlate Match Game teaches elementary students all the food groups and how to categorize foods, and our teen-centered Let's Eat Healthy Teens empowers students to make healthy eating and physical activity choices. HealthyEating.org offers these and many other free educational tools aimed at engaging and teaching children of all ages.

For YouTube fans, our Ask a Nutritionist video series answers common questions around food topics. Hosted by registered dietitian nutritionists, the series explores questions such as, "What are the best drinks to serve young children?" and "What is healthy eating?" to help demystify common nutrition questions from children, families, educators and health professionals.

These offerings supplement the numerous tools offered by Dairy Council of California, ensuring students and educators have resources in a variety of formats to support learning, whether virtually, in person or via a hybrid model.

At Dairy Council of California, we're proud to elevate the health of children, families and communities, but we can't do it alone. We believe collaboration is vital to ensure children are supported to grow healthfully.

With that in mind, we invite all California agriculture communities to join the Let's Eat Healthy movement, collaborate with us and find new opportunities to educate young people about food, nutrition and agricultural literacy. We're here to offer educational resources not only to schools, children and families but also to community stakeholders who share our commitment to nutrition education and elevating the health of children and families through lifelong healthy eating habits.

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused challenges across the agri-food supply chain, but it has also created new opportunities to innovate and teach people about farming and the food supply, nutrition and how to establish healthy eating patterns, ultimately reaffirming the vital role agriculture plays in supporting community health.

(Tammy Anderson-Wise is CEO of Dairy Council of California.)

Permission for use is granted, however, credit must be made to the California Farm Bureau Federation when reprinting this item.




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