November 29, 2021

Students build bonds with local farmers

ST. LOUIS — Since 2015, St. Louis District Dairy Council has brought hundreds of thousands of kids and calves together in classrooms across Missouri and Illinois. This unique pairing is possible through Adopt-A-Calf, an interactive program designed to teach students about local food, specifically milk.

The online program aims to deliver a personal experience of farm life by engaging participating classrooms from the get-go. Not only do students select a calf from one of 10 local dairy farms featured in the program’s adoption barn, they name and follow her for nine months. During that time, they receive an adoption certificate, monthly pictures and a growth chart to help them keep tabs on their new classmate.

Like most Americans, students are largely disconnected from farm life. Not only does Adopt-A-Calf bridge that gap, but it allows students to get to know farmers in a personal way.

Messages, photos and videos from farmers are delivered to classrooms every month. Students also send messages, ask questions and complete special activities to share with their adopted calf and dairy farmer.

The monthly photos of the growing calf are not the only way students are immersed in the world of dairy farming.

“Students form a close bond with their calf and at the same time build a special friendship with their dairy farmer. Throughout the year, they learn how farms operate and what farmers do to care for their cows and the land around them,” said Dairy Council senior nutrition educator Monica Nyman.

This special bond helps students, farmers and teachers learn from each other.

“The kids hear from us every month for the whole year. It’s like we’re part of their classroom,” said Don Mackinson, one of the six Illinois farmers participating in the program.

The program culminates with a dairy farm field trip for a few lucky classrooms who win an end-of-year contest.

“Though we can’t bring all of the students to the farm, the program brings the world of local dairy to life right in their own classroom,” Nyman said.

Nearly 43,000 local students are participating in this year’s Adopt-A-Calf adventure. The adoption barn opens to schools every August, with the no-cost program running through the end of the school year.