Old McDonald’s Brings the Farm to the Classroom for Kindergarten Students
By John Wagner
NYFB Field Staff Director
One afternoon during a staff meeting at the Webster Elementary School in Syracuse, Julia Adler-Deyett, a Kindergarten teacher was brainstorming ideas with co-workers. The staff was looking for opportunities to provide to students during the winter break, then one evening while on Facebook, Adler-Deyett saw an advertisement for a virtual farm tour through Old McDonald’s Farm in Sacket Harbor titled ZoomDairy. Adler-Deyett was not a stranger to Old McDonald’s Farm having taken her own children to the farm years before when they were little. She remembered how much her children loved the in-person experience and wanted to do her best to bring that same experience to her students, many who have never been able to visit a farm. Even if it could only be virtually through Zoom, she thought the opportunity for her students to visit an operating dairy farm was too good to pass up, enter Emma Shirley and Old McDonald’s Farm.
For many years, Old McDonald’s Farm, North Harbor Dairy, and the Robbins Family in Sackets Harbor have been heavily invested in bringing educational opportunities to school-aged children and the public. Just prior to the COVID-19 pandemic the family had taken steps to establish a non-profit entity, The Sackets Harbor Ag Education and Awareness Center (SHAEAC).
The mission of this new entity would be to positively impact and foster relationships with the community through increasing the understanding of modern agriculture.
The non-profit engaged in the hiring of an Agricultural Education Coordinator to facilitate programs between the farm businesses and area schools and the community, enter Emma Shirley. Emma had previously been a 4-H after school educator at the Belleville-Henderson Central School and had worked at Old McDonald’s over the past 10 years on a part-time basis assisting with the Discover Farming learning center, but it was not until the formation of the non-profit that the need for a full-time Agricultural Education Coordinator presented itself.
During COVID the education center had to adapt to COVID protocols and was able to open on a limited basis but when the center closed at the end of fall, the idea for ZoomDairy really took hold, the center had been doing farm tours for nearly 20 years so the transition to a virtual tour was easy. The live, interactive virtual tours last 40 minutes and take the participants on a tour of North Harbor Dairy.
The tour begins in the calf barns and then makes its way to the maternity pens where on most days the participants are treated to a live birth or two, this was super exciting for the students in Adler-Deyett’s class as the students had neve seen a live birth before. From the maternity pens the tour participants are brought into the free stall facility where they learn about nutrition and the importance of the crop growing side of the farm in providing a balanced diet for the animals.
After learning about the daily diet of the animals the tour finally makes its way into the milking parlor where viewers are presented two different views of the milking system, an eye level view, and an aerial view from above the cows. One of the unique things about the ZoomDairy Tour is the opportunity for participants to “adopt” a newborn calf and name her.
Adler-Deyett’s class “adopted” four calves that they will now follow throughout the school year: Mittens, Cowie, Dalmatian, and Pikachu will now be part of the classroom curriculum for the remainder of this year for Adler-Deyett’s students.
The students enjoyed the tours so much that they have scheduled to check back in with their calves during spring break and tour the farm again.
Emma Shirley demonstrates the front end of the operation at Old McDonald’s Farm in Sacket Harbor for students in Julia Adler-Deyett’s Kindergarten class.
Students in Julia Adler-Deyett’s, Kindergarten class at the Webster Elementary School in Syracuse named these calves as part of their Zoom Dairy Tour with Old McDonald’s Farm and North Harbor Dairy. Their names are Dalmatian (tag 88), Mittens (tag 85), Pikachu (tag 83) and Cowie (tag 86).