The following is a guest contribution by Lindsey Lund & Josie McCarthy, sophomores at Wauzeka-Steuben School District in southwestern Wisconsin. 

On Thursday, March 2, 2017, Wauzeka-Steuben School District partnered with Organic Valley for “Read Across America Week.” All week, the pre-K through fifth grade classes held dress up days and participated in coloring and essay contests. It was known that Organic Valley was coming to help further the kids’ knowledge on farming and what they accomplish as a company at the tail end of the week. Organic Valley graciously brought around ten of their staff to talk to the classes about various topics.

At around 8:30 AM, the young students were brought down to the gymnasium for an assembly to start off the day. The students came dressed in their farmer outfits and could barely contain their excitement. Many of our school’s staff were dressed in their farm attire as well. Wauzeka-Steuben Principal Tiffany Dums introduced Kimberly Frederickson, who gave a presentation to the students about Organic Valley. The rest of the Organic Valley team introduced themselves as well as their favorite book. Later on, the coloring and essay contests winners were announced, and the first place winners got to read their essays on “cooperation” and “teamwork” to the entire assembly.

The fourth graders prepared a short play to present to Organic Valley entitled “The first co-op in Wisconsin is Cheese for the Mousetrap: Anne Pickett and Wisconsin Dairy Co-Operatives.” After the performance, the entire elementary sang the “Life of a Farmer” to our guests and had a great time doing it. Also, the “Cat in the Hat” and our FFA President (dressed as a cow) also made an appearance. At the end of the assembly, Mickella Geary presented the elementary as a whole and each individual class with a certificate of achievement. After the assembly, the classes split up to observe what Organic Valley had planned for the different groups.

In the pre-K room, Ashley White taught the young learners about farm and barnyard animals. They loved it. The pre-K students were most excited to make butter. Each class was given two jars of Organic Valley heavy cream and given the task of shaking it until it turned to butter. The team had brought crackers for the kids to try with their butter. The 4-K students probably had the most fun with it… one could hear them laughing and giggling down the hall.

They could not wait to try the butter they had worked so hard to make. All that shaking tired them out, one boy laid on the floor in defeat while waiting for the butter to be ready. Ashley and their teacher took the opportunity to talk about how hard farming is, and how much more difficult it used to be. Almost the entire class thought the butter tasted like popcorn, though one little boy said it “tasted like mixed berries.”

Justin Trussoni, who is an Organic Valley farmer, went to the third grade class and started off by handing out bookmarks. He told the class all about what he does on his farm, and talked about the vegetables he grows, such as squash and kale. The kids talked about their favorite vegetables with him. They had a discussion about the differences between organic and non-organic farms, and the benefits of being an organic farm. Justin informed them that farming organically is better for the environment because it doesn’t use pesticides or fungicides. The class was very interested in the topic and asked a lot of questions, such as how cows are treated different on organic farms and if they are given vaccinations. After they were done asking questions, Justin read them “Goodness Grows,” a short story about farming and cows. The third grade class moved on to making their butter, most of them thought it was delicious and a couple of them asked for more.

Sue Klingaman and Emma Grinde were both in the second grade classroom. They discussed the pros and cons of grass-fed versus grain-fed dairy. Sue also read “Goodness Grows” to the children. They were pleasantly surprised with the illustrations within the book. Emma introduced the topic of rotational grazing to the developing youth. At first, they were confused with the idea, but after multiple questions relating to the number of pastures the farmers need, the second graders became familiar with the concept. The children were also given trivia, to which they answered to the best of their knowledge. With limited time left, the class began shaking their jars of cream, determined to make butter. They realized, after wearing themselves out, that making butter was hard work. When it was done, the kids enjoyed their butter sample along with a cracker, and even got to bring some home with them.

The fourth grade schedule was homogeneous to the second grade’s. To begin, Wendy Allen explained her job as a writer for Organic Valley, which really engrossed them. Then, to kick off the topic of cooperatives, Wendy and the kids circle up to play a game. Wendy gave them the simple directions of finding two people across from them, whom they would throw a ball to. They began with one ball, and when more were added, they realized the game was more difficult than they previously thought. One of the kids was quick to question what the point of the game was; to which Wendy responded with, “If you focus on your two people instead of following the ball, your job will become a great deal easier.” They tried it, and realized she was right and that this is an important part of cooperation. From the game, they also learned to be kind to one another if someone messes up. After playing the game a few more times, the children sat in their desks. Wendy regrouped them by relating the game to jobs at Organic Valley, and how if one person dropped the ball, it set up a chain reaction of jobs not being finished, because they did not have the certain parts needed. They ended with butter making, which they were very appreciative of.

At approximately 10:30 AM, the majority of the Organic Valley Staff departed Wauzeka. Sue and Mickella remained, however, and gave the Middle and High School background information on Organic Valley. Sue explained to the entire student body how many fields of work Organic Valley uses. From veterinarians to food staff, almost every major proposed, Sue explained in detail. She kept attempting interaction with the hesitant kids. Mrs. Dums took over and explained how a few W-SHS teachers toured Organic Valley Headquarters in La Farge, and what they were surprised to see is it included the variety of jobs.

Having staff of the largest organic farmer-owned co-op in the nation visit the small town school of Wauzeka-Steuben was for sure an amazing encounter. Principal Dums would like everyone to know and understand, “We were so excited to share this year’s Read Across America Day with the Organic Valley employees. They shared stories about their favorite books, taught valuable lessons about sustainability and cooperatives, and worked with the students to make fresh butter. A few students stated they had no idea making your own food could be so fun. Here we are days later and our kids are still talking about how much they learned from the employees at OV. Mickella Geary did a great job setting everything up, she was very organized and had everything ready to go upon arrival Thursday. We are very grateful that OV chose to spend the day with our students.”

Whether it be making butter from cream, reading an essay in front of many students and teachers, or talking to a real organic farmer, cooperating with Organic Valley for the Read Across America Celebration was a great learning experience for everyone involved.