Farming experience a learning one for students

Published 12:00 am Thursday, September 19, 2002

For many of Austin's third graders, spending a day on a farm is an unusual experience.

It's also a chance for them to see where the food and clothes in the stores come from before they end up in fancy packaging.

Wednesday, the Austin Chamber of Commerce sponsored "A Day on the Farm" and took more than 300 third-grade students from Austin to Larry Gerlach's hog farm, Raymond Sayles' dairy farm and Pajolo Alpacas, Jim and Linda Peters' alpaca farm.

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The Chamber "borrowed" the idea from the Chamber of Commerce in Albert Lea because, explained Sandy Forstner, executive director of the Austin Chamber of Commerce, "the mission of the Chamber is to foster partnerships for the betterment of the community," and that includes promoting local producers and agricultural organizations because "our local economy remains firmly based in agriculture."

He said it also is important for students to understand where their food and clothes come from and having third graders tour farms for that purpose seemed logical because they will study the food chain this year. "The classroom discussion is probably most important, but this gives they something concrete to remember," Forstner said.

At the Sayles' dairy farm, owner Raymond Sayles said he thought the kids enjoyed themselves, but that he had "no idea how much they're learning." He gave the students a tour of his farm and demonstrated how to milk cows in a milking parlor.

"Most kids nowadays don't even have grandparents that have livestock," he explained.

That was certainly true for Heather Christianson, a third-grade student at Banfield Elementary. "I've never been to a farm before," she confessed. She said she had fun, though and liked that "we got to touch the cows," but said the Gerlach pig farm was "smelly."

The pigs were Jacob Brandt's favorite part. The Banfield student also said the dairy farm and the whole tour in general were "cool." It wasn't his first time visiting a farm, though, he said. "My grandpa's got a farm and it's almost the same (as the Sayles' farm) but he has green tractors, not red ones," Brandt explained.

Overall, Forstner thought the event was a success -- even with the rain -- and he was very appreciative of the time and effort the three farms put into the tour.

"Most importantly, we want to give a great big 'thank you' to all the producers who were involved. They took time out of their schedules (before, during and after) and they did so just because they thought it was important for the kids to see where their food and clothes come from. It was a big commitment on their part."

Amanda L. Rohde can be reached at 434-2214 or by e-mail at