Girls can be farmers? Where do baby cows come from? Do brown cows make chocolate milk?
These are among the most common questions elementary school students have peppered Laura Woloszyn with since she became an “ag educator” about three years ago with the Erie County Agricultural Society, the nonprofit group that spreads agricultural knowledge across the county and runs the Erie County Fair.
Woloszyn, a Springville native who turns 27 today, lives on a dairy farm in Delevan with her husband, James, their daughter, 2-year-old Anastasia, and her husband’s family. By the end of the school year, she will have reached out to about 8,000 Erie County grade school students as leader of the Farm 2 Table education series.
She relishes the work – and the questions.
“The kids look at me and go, ‘You can be a farmer?’ Many also think that farms smell. Farmers are not smelly, they’re not dumb. They’re business people. Even adults, you get this impression in your head about what a person is or isn’t, what a farm is or isn’t.
“The other thing that really shocks the kids is when I tell them farmers have to work every day. I tell them, ‘When you get up on Christmas, you get to get up and open your presents. In my family, when you get up you go to the barn. Then, after chores are done, you get to have your Christmas presents, and that’s for everyone, not just the adults.”
What is the Farm 2 Table program?
A K through 5 ag ed program that we take into the schools. We have 14 lessons that feature different agricultural commodities and products. I go in and teach the kids about some aspect of agriculture, and we try to incorporate some sort of craft that they can take home and share with their family. I’m the only teacher, but another co-worker comes in and helps and also some fairgrounds volunteers. Most of the volunteers love the fair, and a decent chunk of them are retired teachers.
Do you go to some schools more than once?
I do. There’s a Buffalo public school of fifth-graders, and I’ll teach them seven lessons this school year. We get to know each other, which is kind of fun. There’s first-graders out in Akron that I’ll see seven times throughout the year. I told them in the springtime I’ll bring in pictures of the family plowing the fields.
What are some of the most colorful questions you’re asked?
Especially with the dairy (presentation), I find a lot of ‘Do the brown cows give chocolate milk?’ With a lot of the younger ones, they want to know where baby cows come from. Where does the milk come from? A lot of them are shocked when I throw out some little ag facts, like a cow drinks a bathtub full of water a day; a combine costs a quarter of a million dollars. There’s so much they don’t realize. They soak it up.
What topics are you teaching?
We had an apple program for both K through 2 and 3 through 5 that was real popular in October. We’re doing a nutrition program for each school, teaching kids about good and bad food choices. The consumer is just as important as the producer. We’re teaching a class in 3 through 5 about wool production. There’s a 3 through 5 program called ‘Pizza Starts on the Farm,’ which is very popular. I teach them all the steps that go into getting the ingredients that go into a pizza from the farm to our table. I stress the importance of ‘You can call Dominoes and get a pizza in 20 minutes, but on a farm it takes two years for a calf to become a cow so you can milk it for the cheese. The combine to harvest the wheat that goes into your crust costs $250,000.’ It just kind of gives them a bigger idea. It covers animal agriculture, food agriculture, food science, so many different things. And the kids like that because what kids don’t like pizza?
In November, I was doing a lot on ‘The Three Sisters,’ a Native American gardening method. The Iroquois Indians came up with it. It’s corn, beans and squash. In a garden, they work together well to help each other grow, and nutritionally they make a pretty solid meal that you can survive on. That works well with a fourth-grade curriculum. We do a dairy one for K through 2. I bring in cow bones and a baby calf bottle and pictures from dairy magazines and cow feeds, so they can feel them and smell them, and we make butter from heavy whipping cream. It blows their mind that they can make that. I like the dairy one. It’s pretty easy for me. In the new year, I have a lot planned for ‘Pizza Starts on the Farm,’ some nutrition programs and one on maple production.
Have most of the kids been to the Erie County Fair?
I start by telling kids I work for the Erie County Fair and asking how many of them have been to the fair? Sometimes, almost everybody raises their hands, sometimes it’s just one or two. More of ’em get to come and experience it. I tell them, ‘If you come, I’ll be at the barns every day, come out and say hello.’ When I was a kid, we didn’t go down to the barns, we did everything else, so I encourage them to see the part of the fair that was the start of fairs. It all started from agricultural competitions. It’s not just farmers showing their cows, they’re competing for prizes, too. It’s just like the Westminster Dog Show, but it’s for cows.
On the Web: Read about a big change coming to this year’s fair at blogs. buffalonews.com/refresh