South Dakota farmers connect with fourth-grade students through Adopt-A-Farmer program Original

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO)– Fourth-grade classrooms from around the state are gaining experience in the agricultural industry thanks to local farmers who are a part of Ag United’s Adopt-A-Farmer program.

The Adopt-A-Farmer program is used in 46 different classrooms with 977 students, reaching from Yankton to Aberdeen and Sioux Falls to Rapid City, Heidi Zwinger, Outreach Director for Ag United for South Dakota said. This program has been running for about 10 years. Currently, they have five farmers participating but in years past, they have had as many as 10.

“Fourth graders learn about South Dakota history, so it kind of fit in with their program on not only learning about the history of agriculture in our state, but also being able to highlight the math and the science and the new technology that agriculture uses in order to connect them to the farming today,” Zwinger said.

The program connects a farmer with a fourth-grade classroom and that farmer sends videos once a month about different things happening on their operation. In a normal year, the farmer would visit the classroom and do a hands-on learning activity with the students, but due to the pandemic, farmers have had to “visit” virtually since they cannot go into schools.

“It’s nice that the program was already in place before something like COVID came along,” Zwinger said. “We were able to keep doing it without really changing much about the program.”

Zwinger said the kids love the program.

“They ask questions like, ‘How big are cows?’ ‘How big is your tractor?’ Very simple things that we in agriculture sometimes take for granted,” Zwinger said. “The kids are just excited to have somebody talk to them and share their story and the farmers a lot of times are hesitant until they get to that first session where they interact with the kids and see how excited the kids are, then they really buy into the program and see the value that it brings in being able to reach those kids and make that connection on where their food comes from.”

For a number of years, Kristi Desaulniers fourth-grade classroom at Legacy Elementary in Tea has been involved in the Adopt-A-Farmer program. They have participated for at least ten years, Desaulniers said, and this year they were placed with a new farmer, Phil Eggers.

“The presenters do a good job of tying in their expertise and promoting agriculture within the state and just helping students better understand how important knowing where food comes from is,” Desaulniers said. “They are used to going to the grocery store and finding what they need there, not realizing perhaps where the milk comes from or the meat that they’re eating or some of the other food sources that are coming to the stores, how they’re arriving and that they’re maybe just down the road, so making that connection is very insightful for them.”

Desaulniers said for most of her students, there is a limited connection to generationally-owned farms.

“Those that do have that opportunity are excited to share their connections and their stories of course,” Desaulniers said. “And for those who aren’t connected at all, it gets them thinking a little bit about perhaps how they could be connected to that career field in the future.”

Desaulniers said Eggers did a great job explaining to students how they could get involved in the agricultural industry if that is something they are interested in and possible career opportunities.

During a normal year, when it is time for the farmer to visit the classroom, the students have already been introduced to the farmer virtually through the monthly videos, Desaulniers said. Once they meet in person, it’s exciting for them to be able to make that connection, share personal experiences and ask the farmer questions.

While they are happy to be able to have classes in person, Desaulniers said they are looking forward to being able to have outside guests visit their classrooms again.

She said eventually, when they can return to having field trips, they would love to be able to visit the farmer at their operation.

Eggers said his favorite part of participating in the Adopt-A-Farmer program is when students get to relate being a farmer with someone in their backyard or when they can realize that the food they are eating may come from a place only 15 minutes away.

“They have a lot of really good questions,” Eggers said. “And some questions that are pretty tough to answer. But I really like the education part of it, I mean, if we can get just a few kids to realize they are eating a safe product, mainly beef, and that we are trying to care for those animals, it’s going to make the industry as a whole, even if it’s one person at a time, better for everybody and they may be advocates for that industry someday.”

Eggers currently is the farmer for three classrooms, all in the Tea area.

Some of the topics that Eggers has discussed with students through his monthly videos include nutrition, cattle family tree registrations, cattle feed and how it’s made, calving by showing a calf birth, calf processing and anything from planting to harvest. Eggers hopes that the students continue to educate their friends and their families about the agricultural industry.

“If we can get in on a young level like this, and know that they’re going to consume the product that we’re producing for a lifetime, we know that our industry is going to be sustainable,” Eggers said. “Even if it’s just me doing this and it’s just one person, or one person that may be able to advocate on agriculture’s behalf, and make sure that my industry and my livelihood is sustainable that’s worth it for me.”

Eggers said this year, he really missed the opportunity to be able to visit the classroom in person, but he hopes to be able to return sometime.

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