Middleton Dairy Farms is becoming the land of milk and honey for teaching youngsters about agriculture.
For 10 years, elementary school teacher Kerra Middleton asked her husband, dairy farmer Shane Middleton, to open their family farm for agritourism. Kerra had a vision of teaching students how milk gets from a cow to the table.
“Agriculture is everywhere, and it is in so many school objectives,” Kerra said. “I can show students a cow in a book, and I can show them a cow in a video, but until they see it, feel it and smell it, it is not the same.”
Middleton Dairy Farms’ new agritourism facility engages all the children’s senses. It includes classroom workshops, a live milking demonstration, hands-on learning and a play area. Because of its location near Mobile, the dairy draws school groups from Mississippi and Alabama.
“It has gone incredibly well so far,” Kerra said. “We’ve had groups from pre-school to high school Future Farmers of America. We’ve gotten great feedback from everyone who has come out.”
A former state and national Agriculture in the Classroom (AITC) Teacher of the Year, Kerra is passionate about ag education, said AITC State Chair Kim Ramsey.
“Kerra is a graduate of the Ag in the Classroom Summer Institute and has been a presenter at the state and national levels,” Ramsey said. “She continues to be an enthusiastic supporter of programs that incorporate lessons about farming into classroom materials. Middleton Dairy Farms is a great example of hands-on learning for adults and children.”
While her father-in-law, Robert Middleton, was hesitant to bring people to the dairy, he realized the need for agriculture education during a visit to a local bank.
“What pushed us to the point of doing it was when we talked to a guy from the city who wanted to know if we milked a bull or a heifer,” Robert said. “We can educate people on where their milk comes from. It comes from Walmart, but it comes from the farm first.
“We want kids to understand the life of a dairy farmer and that someone has to be here seven days a week, 365 days a year,” he added.
“We are mainly catering to schools and field trips right now, and I’m hoping it will pick up in the fall and next spring,” said Robert’s son, Jeff. “We have had about 2,500 people visit so far.”
For the students who visit Middleton Dairy Farms, the hands-on experience is fun and educational.
East Central Lower Elementary School second-grade teacher Angela Nelson brought her students to the dairy farm hoping they would learn more about agriculture in their rural community.
“The kids learned a lot about the dairy, and I hope they come back with knowledge of where we get our milk and the importance of agriculture,” Nelson said.
Learning was Kerra’s key objective when planning the hands-on stations.
“I tried to think about things I took a week or two to cover in my classroom,” Kerra explained. “I set the stations up so we can teach them as much as possible in one day about how the milk gets from the cow to the store.”
Students learn what it takes to feed a dairy cow; what dairy cows eat and how to feed them; how the milking process has evolved; the anatomy of a cow and more.
“They get to bottle feed a baby calf, make butter, see a live milking demonstration, conduct a milk experiment and play in our udder-ly fun games,” Kerra said.
Long-term goals for the dairy farm include building a processing facility to further educate children about the dairy foods they eat.
“In the last three years, two dairies have sold that were right here with us,” Kerra said. “That has led to increased freight costs for us, and the milk truck doesn’t want to come all the way out here. The processing facility would allow us to milk the cow, show students how the milk is tested and explain the different processes until it is bottled and sold. We want to get to the point of being self-sufficient.”
For more information on Middleton Dairy Farms, visit middletonfarmtours.webs.com.