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Education programs bring dairy to Canadian classrooms

Alice Guthrie for Progressive Dairy Published on 17 August 2021
Henrietta Heeg

There is a well-known disconnect between city dwellers and farmers in our modern age. Many, if not most people no longer have roots in a farming community and therefore have little or no knowledge of modern farming practices.

How do schoolchildren in Canada learn about the benefits of milk? Different provinces have different approaches, and approaches have changed with the onset of the coronavirus pandemic.

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Dairy Farmers of Canada (DFC) offers school programs in Alberta, Quebec and the Maritimes with the aim of inspiring teachers to have a positive impact on their students. DFC’s Teach Nutrition program is designed to teach children about healthy eating by discovering and exploring a variety of foods, including dairy. Each province’s nutrition team produces unique programs and tools which support curriculum demands in the province. Resources include teacher guides, handouts, posters, games, recipes, books, worksheets and more. A book series for grades one to four has been developed in the Maritimes. Called Food Discovery with Friends, it focuses on nutrition, cooking, wellness and agricultural topics. In addition to the large read-aloud book, which includes classroom activities, there are also ebook and audio formats.

BC Dairy offers several virtual programs aimed at specific grades, as well as a school milk program. Saskatchewan has nutrition resources, agricultural education videos about dairy and a school milk program. Dairy Farmers of Manitoba has a school milk program, along with information and videos on their website. More information on these programs can be found on the provincial milk groups’ respective websites.

Dairy Farmers of Ontario (DFO) has developed its dairy education program to help students learn about the dairy industry in a way that will give them accurate knowledge and help develop skills to become well-informed decision-makers. Dairy educators visited classrooms prior to COVID-19, using PowerPoint and smartboard presentations along with hands-on items. During COVID-19, the focus shifted to virtual presentations. Educators across the province quickly adapted and learned new skills to accommodate the school closures and restrictions.

Haldimand-Norfolk Dairy Educator Henrietta Heeg is enthusiastic and passionate about her role in educating students of all ages, often speaking not just in schools but at local fairs and other events. Heeg states, “COVID really opened up new doors to develop new things.” She explains that DFO runs several programs.

Dairy Education is an interactive, curriculum-connected presentation with appropriate levels for kindergarten through grade 12 on the topics of dairy farming, dairy goodness, careers, processing and technology. Some lessons covered in this program include an introduction to the local farm and farm family, the life cycle of the calf, careers and community helpers, the veterinarian’s role, the seven breeds of dairy cattle, shelters and farm planning, crops, machinery and tools, milking and processing. Further information is available at Dairy Education Program.

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Growing Up Dairy is a new correspondence program introduced this year. Classes can follow a calf from birth to 20 weeks old. Teachers receive emails with information about the growth and development of “their” calf along with information about what happens day-to-day on a dairy farm. Students can question the dairy educator, and the teacher is provided further information and assignments that meet curriculum expectations. Photos of the calf are provided as she grows, and discussions include the importance of feeding colostrum, why a newborn calf needs a calf coat and why calves are housed in separate hutches. Lessons are intended to be curriculum-connected.

Dairycraft is a DFO-created interactive world built in the Minecraft video game (which has 126 million active users each month). It is available to students, teachers and parents and is designed to bring Ontario curriculum core concepts to life in a gaming environment popular among 4- to 18-year-olds. Lesson plans challenge the students; they need to get creative and collaborate to complete tasks which relate to core learning pillars (local, versatility and nutrition). Anyone with a Minecraft account can download Dairycraft by visiting bit.ly/343Ud3Q

Learning Management System is a digital learning platform that offers curriculum-compliant activities, tools and resources for kindergarten through grade 12. Interactive materials include topics such as environment, greenhouse gas and sustainability. Check it out at Dairy Education Program.

The Elementary School Milk Program (ESMP), assisted by thousands of volunteers and people in the dairy industry, has provided elementary students with milk daily since 1986. Millions of children have benefitted from this program. For more information, see Elementary School Milk Program.

Heeg shares that feedback from teachers, students and parents has been, “Positive, positive, positive.” She concludes, “Teachers and students are further removed from agriculture than ever before. It is important for those involved in the dairy industry to educate students through programs rooted in the Ontario curriculum so that the next generation of students gain respect for food production on the farm. Students are our future.” end mark

Alice Guthrie is a freelance writer from Hagersville, Ontario.

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PHOTO: Haldimand-Norfolk Dairy Educator Henrietta Heeg with a young calf Spring Knoll Edge Sola at her family’s farm in Haldimand County, Ontario. Photo by Alice Guthrie.

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