By Curt Nettinga
Of the Plainsman
WOLSEY — Sometimes changing the setting presents a different aspect to learning. And sometimes, knowing the right people makes it easier to achieve.
The fifth-grade students at Huron’s Washington 4-5 Center got up close and personal with ingredients of their breakfast this morning or the sweater they will slip on to ward off the evening chill.
But the Friday trip started as a simple question that Rita Baszler, the nurse at Washington, asked of the students in her health class one day.
“This whole project began as a ‘Fuel Up to Play 60’ school project, that was about teaching the students about Farm to School,” Baszler explained. “I told the students that I was going to ask a dairy farmer to come speak to the class about how a dairy worked. I asked if anyone knew a dairy farmer named Russell Jungemann, or perhaps another dairy man.”
Fifth-grader Leeam Davis stood up and said “I do. My step-dad is Glenn Jungemann and Russell is his brother.” That was step one in the adventure.
Farm to School is a portion of the Fuel Up to Play 60 program, for which grant funds had been secured earlier. Baszler said that fresh, local foods - including milk - are great additions to healthy meals and snacks, which is one of the reasons that is important for the students to learn how it works. “By teaming up with farmers and other people in the community, the students are able to learn about the benefits of consuming locally grown and produced items, and how farmers take care of the land.
Baszler said that very night she contacted Russell and his wife Janet, who own and operate Lazy J Dairy, a very large - and growing - dairy operation west of Wolsey, and they agreed to come to the school and talk about their dairy farm.
Then the next day, the project got bigger.
Glenn and his wife MaryLiz Stotz - Leeam’s mom - operate Jungemann Sheep Farm north of Wolsey and vowed to find funding to make a trip to the working operations, if Baszler thought it would benefit the kids. Instead of bringing the farmers to school, maybe the school could visit the farmers.
One thing led to another and soon S.D. Wheat Growers were on board as well. The Wheat Growers Wolsey terminal is positioned almost directly between the dairy and sheep operations and would be able to show the students one more thing that they come in contact with every day.
MaryLiz went to work, securing funding to pay for the transportation to the three sites and setting up a schedule. The students were split into three groups, logically, and spent more than an hour at all three sites, rotating so each student was able to enjoy the same experience. FFA members from the local chapter were on hand to lend a hand in answering questions about agriculture at the sites.
It was a new experience for many of the students.
“Many of our 5th graders have never seen a farm and even fewer have seen a dairy farm or a sheep farm,” Baszler said. “It was a gracious offer and an amazing opportunity that we simply could not pass up.”
At Lazy J Dairy
Lazy J Dairy is one of the foremost dairy operations in South Dakota. They currently milk between 450 and 500 head of cows three times per day. The students learned that the cows are fed using silage and more grown on the Lazy J farm, and that each animal is tracked using ear tags and electronic monitoring devices. They toured the free-stall barn where the cows currently on the milking rotation stay, saw the feeding operation and learned how nutrition helps maintain herd health and got to tour the calf barn with the newborn calves and the milk room. Being able to get in the pen and pet the young calves was definitely a popular activity.
They learned the milk is used to create a myriad of products, from yogurt, butter and ice cream to cheese, sour cream and more, in addition to the milk cartons they see every day at lunch.
Down Highway 14 a few miles, the students stopped at Wheat Growers. There, they learned how grain is planted, maintained and harvested, before being shipped all over the world. They also learned that the small brown kernels of wheat are ground into flour, which is used around the world to make a wide range of baking products.
Jungemann Sheep Farm
Then it was on to the sheep farm. There, the students got a presentation on noxious weeds from the S.D. Dept. of Ag’s Weed Board, how to recognize them and how to prevent their spread.
MaryLiz’s daughter Eryn Schlotte led a group of students to an area where Larry Bramstead of Harrisburg was shearing the farm’s 100 head of sheep. After watching one ewe lose her winter coat, Schlotte showed the students a fleece, and told them that a pound of wool will make 10 miles of yarn.
“Did you know,” Schlotte asked the students, “that there are 450 yards of yarn in every baseball?”
She also shared that wool is used to make clothing and blankets with yarn, and that lanolin, a naturally occurring product on the wool, is removed and used in lotion and face cream.
All in all it was a full day of learning and fresh air for the students and staff.
Stotz said that it was good for the students to see the work that goes into the food they eat, the clothes they wear and products they use every day.
“Sometimes ag gets a bad name,” she said. “Many kids, even here in rural South Dakota, have never been on a farm and see where things begin and have little understanding what happens to make those products.”
She added that there is no way that the day-long event would have been possible, without a long list of sponsors who donated resources to enhance the learning process, including take home items on sheep production, dairy products and much more.
When they got back, each student had a better understanding of where their breakfast this morning had its beginning.