Alabama teachers bring cows to classrooms to show students importance of farming

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As the daughter of a dairy farmer, Sylacauga educator Rachel Chastain learned a lot from cows.

She can school anyone on the chemical makeup of milk. She understands the science behind Alabama’s diverse farming landscapes. And at a young age, she learned to appreciate where her food came from and how it was produced.

That’s why she decided to adopt a cow for her classroom.

“We used to have probably 300 dairies in my county before I was born, and now there are none,” she said. “Everybody had an uncle or a cousin or a grandparent in the dairy business two generations back, and it just isn’t like that anymore. And so that disconnect from what actually happens on a farm – I would love to be a part of the process [to dispel those] myths.”

Chastain heard about Discover Dairy’s Adopt-a-Cow program through Alabama Ag in the Classroom, an initiative sponsored by the Farmer’s Federation that connects teachers to agricultural workshops and farm tours.

While dairy farms are dwindling in Talladega County, the milk business is still a key employer in Chastain’s community. Sylacauga is home to one of the nation’s two Blue Bell plants, and Chastain is always seeking out ways to make classroom lessons relevant for her students.

“I wanted to do the program because I have students whose parents, their jobs are dependent on dairy,” she said.

Since Adopt-a-Cow began about a decade ago, 800,000 children across the country have participated in the free, year-long program. This year, more than 800 classrooms in Alabama will be paired with a local dairy, where they’ll get to observe a newborn calf throughout the year.

Classrooms must make an agreement to watch the cows as they grow and develop on a host dairy farm, keep track of their health and wellbeing and continue to learn about their role on the farm. The program sends teachers information about the cow, as well as suggested lessons.

For Chastain, who works as a transition teacher at the Alabama Institute for the Deaf and Blind, the program helps engage her students and is flexible enough to meet their varied needs.

“It’s done in a way that I can make it fit my students’ needs, but it also could be really applicable for a regular public school classroom,” Chastain said.

Because she teaches at a residential school, Chastain usually knows what her students have for each meal and can work with cafeteria workers to support their learning. For one lesson, she teaches her students to make homemade ice cream and asks them where the milk comes from.

“They’ll tell me that milk comes from a cow, but they also don’t realize that cheese is made from milk,” she said. “So it’s that second step of learning ‘where does my food come from?’”

Alabama teachers like Chastain are joining a growing “moo-vement,” as the organization calls it. Last year, 27,000 classrooms across the nation registered for the Adopt-a-Cow program. This year, participation increased to 30,000, and the company has also expanded its reach overseas.

In Pike Road last year, kindergartners got to Zoom with their adopted calf. And in Alexander City last spring, a STEM teacher held a gender reveal for a cow she adopted from the local Blue Ribbon Dairy farm.

In Talladega, Chastain has already registered for another year, and is waiting to hear back about her newest calf. In the meantime, she says her two Jerseys at home might make a special visit.

A teacher holds a photo of a brown cow named Ginger.

Alexander City Schools adopted “Ginger” from Blue Ribbon Dairy last spring. Image from Alexander City Schools

How do I adopt a cow?

To apply for the program, teachers can visit discoverdairy.com/adopt-a-cow, where an application will ask for some basic personal and classroom information. There’s no approval process, which means all applicants will be automatically registered to adopt a cow for the current school year.

By October, participants will be notified of their host farm and calf via email and a post to the user’s Adopt-A-Cow portal. Teachers can expect to receive a kit with details about the farm and calf by November, and about three updates on the cow throughout the year.

In April or May, classrooms will have an opportunity to chat live with the calf and host farm via YouTube.

Registration for each academic year runs from May 1 to September 15.

Rebecca Griesbach is a member of The Alabama Education Lab team at AL.com. She is supported through a partnership with Report for America. Learn more here and contribute to support the team here.

Originally Appeared Here