November 30, 2020 at 8:25 p.m.

A kindergarten mascot

Griffins create calf project to help youth learn about dairy
Agnes (left) and Karen Griffin show the 2019-2020 Kindergarten Project Calf, Golden, to the class in the school’s parking lot in September 2019 in Thief River Falls, Minnesota. PHOTO SUBMITTED
Agnes (left) and Karen Griffin show the 2019-2020 Kindergarten Project Calf, Golden, to the class in the school’s parking lot in September 2019 in Thief River Falls, Minnesota. PHOTO SUBMITTED

By By Krista Kuzma- | Comments: 0 | Leave a comment

    THIEF RIVER FALLS, Minn. – Although the mascot of Challenger Elementary School is a prowler, the kindergarten class has a secondary identity – a Holstein calf.
    For the third year, the students in the kindergarten class at the Thief River Falls school are participating in the year-long Kindergarten Calf Project created by Ryan and Karen Griffin and their kids, Curtis, 10, Evelyn, 8, and Agnes, 5, who milk 12 cows on their dairy, Kara-Kesh Holsteins, near Thief River Falls.  
    “We wanted to do more than have them come out to the farm once and that was it,” Ryan Griffin said about the kindergarten class that has been taking a tour of their dairy for the past eight years.
    The calf project allows the students to know about the life events of one of the September-born bovines on the farm. This year, the class will be learning about Garnet, a Red and White Holstein born Sept. 5.
    “That way the kindergartners are following the calf’s story from birth,” Griffin said.
    In the previous two years, the Griffins would bring the calf to school at the beginning of the school year for the kindergartners to meet the calf and vote on one of the three names chosen; however, with the novel coronavirus pandemic, this year the Griffins sent a video to the distant-learning class instead. The video highlighted what Garnet eats, where she sleeps and how the Griffins care for her every day.
    Once a month, the family sends an update about the calf and any changes she is going through. For example, in the video they have planned for December, the Griffins will share how Garnet is going to be weaned and what that means.  
    “We try to make it engaging,” Griffin said.
    With Agnes in the kindergarten class, the Griffins are able to see the kids’ reactions to the videos this year even while distance learning.
    “Anytime Garnet is mentioned this year, the class goes crazy with excitement,” Griffin said.
    In the spring, the class, which has about 175 kids, typically goes on a fieldtrip to the Griffins’ farm for a tour and to see their classroom mascot again.  
    “We make a special pen for the calf in the middle of the yard with shade so the kids have access to her the whole time they’re there,” Griffin said.
    The tour includes a milking demonstration, and a close-up of where the animals live and what they eat.
    The project calf is shown at the county fair, regardless if the Griffins think she will win her class or not. On the calf’s pedigree sign, the Griffins add the school’s logo to inform the fairgoers of this calf’s honorable role.
    “It gives dairy another touch point, too, because the kids are bringing family and friends to the fair so it becomes bigger than just learning in the classroom,” Griffin said. “And it gives them more engagement than just one farm visit.”
    While the goal of their farm is first and foremost to breed and market high quality Holstein genetics, the Griffins also like to make sure they have a low somatic cell count to ensure a quality product. They also like to promote dairy.
    “Karen and I have both always put an emphasis on community engagement,” Griffin said.
    It is why they contacted the elementary school eight years ago to ask about offering a farm tour for students.
    “I’ve always viewed Thief River Falls as a farming community, but it’s not,” Griffin said.
    During the first tour when Griffin asked how many kindergartners had ever been on a dairy farm, none of them raised their hands. So, he asked the same question of the chaperones.
    “I was stunned that out of the 20-some adults that were there, none of them had been on a dairy farm before,” Griffin said. “These were 40-some years old people. That’s when we knew we needed to do more than tours for kindergarteners.”
    Since then, the Griffins have opened their farm to groups from church, early childhood education and the FFA chapter.
    “It doesn’t matter if you milk six or 6,000 cows, we all have to shed a positive light on everything in the industry,” Griffin said.


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