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Students in the Food and Nutrition Technology class at Glenelg High School took a virtual field trip to a dairy farm in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, during class Tuesday morning.
Students in the Food and Nutrition Technology class at Glenelg High School took a virtual field trip to a dairy farm in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, during class Tuesday morning. (Jess Nocera / Baltimore Sun Media Group)

Glenelg High School students traveled to a dairy farm in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, on Tuesday morning where a farmer showed them the inner workings of the operation. The students never left their classroom.

Students in Kathryn Delaney’s Food and Nutrition Technology class — spanning across all grade levels — took the virtual tour of JoBo Holstein Farm courtesy of dairy farmer Joy Widerman.

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A screen set up at the front of Delaney’s classroom projected Widerman from the Pennsylvania farm. Via a camera, the dairy farmer showed students the farm’s milking parlor where 36 female cows can be milked at a time. All of the farm’s cows are milked three times per day, 365 days a year. Most dairy cows can produce between 6 to 10 gallons of milk a day.

Hosted by the American Dairy Association Northeast, the virtual field trip concept is in its second year. The association is running three this year, with the other two next month. The field trips, which occur in real time with live video, are funded by dairy farms and dairy farmers sit on the association’s board of directors, according to Callie Curley, an industry relations specialist for the association.

“Our purpose is to build trust in dairy foods and dairy farmers and help people understand where their food is coming from,” Curley said.

The association has partnerships with farms in Maryland, Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, Delaware and Northern Virginia.

From the milking parlor, Widerman moved into the freestall barn where the cows spend most of their day, eating about 100 pounds of total mixed ration, a type of feed mixed by a machine. In Tuesday’s feed, the cows were eating chopped corn with a variety of minerals and vitamins.

While Widerman explained the daily tasks of the farm, Emma Andrew-Swarthout, the association’s director of dairy image, moderated the tour from a separate, remote location. She spoke with Widerman and asked questions submitted in real time by students from the more than 30 participating schools.

Several questions from Delaney’s class were answered, including if the diet of a cow affects the taste of their milk and how lactose-free milk is made.

Widerman said, to her, all milk tastes the same and that the farm is breeding the cows in a fashion that allows them to have less lactose in their milk.

Being able to watch a live feed of a dairy farmer walk around the farm and converse with the association’s moderator allows for teachers to expose students to new things but without “cost-prohibitive” factors, such as bus transportation, lunch, permission slips and time away from class, Curley said.

Delaney, who is Glenelg’s family and consumer science teacher, hoped her students received “a practical understanding of how milk is produced and that it is part of the food supply system” from attending the virtual field trip.

“We need to be aware of how we get the food we eat, but also what goes into the food we eat,” she added.

As part of the class, she teaches a unit to students about how dairy products are graded and inspected, and participates in milk and cheese tastings.

Speaking to her class, Delaney said the virtual tour was awesome and hopes to have similar opportunities to “change up the classroom” in terms of learning activities.

Sophomore Samantha Dixon said she enjoyed the virtual tour and said it was “very nice” to have questions answered in real time.

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The 15-year-old lives on Triple Creek Farm, a beef cattle farm in West Friendship, where she cares for cattle and pigs. She attends various 4-H showings with the animals, including the annual Howard County Fair.

In its inaugural year, the field trips reached 15,000 students from pre-kindergarten to 12th grade worldwide, Curley said. There are three tours broken down by age groups: pre-K to third grade, fourth to sixth grade and seventh through 12th grade. The breakdown allows for the tours to be targeted to certain age groups with corresponding vocabulary to help explain what the dairy farmers are talking about.

Participating schools are also able to re-watch tours after they are posted online.

A challenge with the live tours is choosing a time that is accessible to the greatest number of schools tuning in on that particular day, Curley said.

Anthony Rabelo, 16, took Delaney’s class because of his interest in culinary arts. So far in class, he said milk or milk-based products have come up in their recipes, including the most recent recipe of chocolate chip cookies made from scratch.

On JoBo Holstein Farm, Anthony said, “I feel like it’s a very cool and innovative way to save money and give an experience of a field trip.”

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