New York Mills kindergarten students – (from left) Karsyn and Charlee – enjoy chocolate milk while learning about how cows are milked at Mursu Dairy May 8 in New York Mills, Minn.
New York Mills kindergarten students – (from left) Karsyn and Charlee – enjoy chocolate milk while learning about how cows are milked at Mursu Dairy May 8 in New York Mills, Minn. PHOTO BY DANNA SABOLIK
    NEW YORK MILLS, Minn. – School is almost out for the summer, but education continues right up until the last bell at New York Mills Elementary School.
    Kindergarten students learned about dairy farming, and agriculture as a whole, during the classes’ annual farm tour at Mursu Dairy May 8 in New York Mills, Minn.
    “We live in a rural area, yet there are children and adults with no exposure to agriculture,” Tammy Mursu said. “We need to keep doing these tours because of that.”
    Mursu dairy farms with her husband, Tom, and son, Jeremy. For the past five years, Mursu has coordinated with her daughter and local kindergarten teacher, Bridget Weller, to host the three classes of students on the family’s farm.
    The students learn about dairy farming – from calf care to nutrition – but also other entities of the agriculture industry, such as farm machinery and smaller farm animals.
     This year, Princess Kay of the Milky Way Rebeka Paskewitz spent time in the classroom May 7 to prepare the students for their field trip the following day.
    Paskewitz distributed farming puzzles about dairy farming to each classroom during her visit. Mursu purchased the puzzles using grant funding from Midwest Dairy, and the puzzles will be shared between the three classes throughout the school year.
    Children also received cheese snacks at school during the week of the tour. Those were donated by Land O’Lakes.
    “Kids talk about this event leading up to it and afterwards,” Weller said. “I also enjoy seeing people come together who all have a passion for farming. It’s rewarding to see that.”
    When students arrived at the farm, they were separated into groups and visited eight stations – the milking herd in the freestall barn; the robotic milking systems; bunnies and chicks; the bulk tank; the feed station; a tractor; calves; and young goats and piglets.
    In the milk room, the students paused for a short break in which they drank a carton of milk provided by the school. At the end of the tour, children enjoyed a small cup of ice cream donated by Mills Country Market.
    Every year, the Mursus rely on help from neighbors and friends to setup for the day.
    “There’s stress in hosting the field trip, but if it weren’t for the neighbors and teachers and FFA students, it wouldn’t be possible,” Mursu said.
    Weller agreed.
    “I’m so fortunate my family wants to share their passion,” she said. “This is a huge time commitment, especially during planting season, and they’ve made it special to New York Mills.”
    The Mursus first gave a tour to the local kindergarten classes when Weller’s oldest daughter – Tammy and Tom’s first grandchild – was in kindergarten. Now, a grandson participated in the tours as his dad and the Mursus’ son, Trent, helped at an educational station.
    The first tour was meant to be as the Mursus recently completed a renovation on their farm, which included a new freestall barn and two milking robots for their 160-cow dairy.
    Both Mursu and Weller saw the opportunity to connect younger generations with the dairy industry. They worked together to create a curriculum of sorts for kindergarten students to learn more about farming.
    “That first year we tried it and saw the excitement the kids had,” Mursu said.
    Weller agreed.
    “I grew up on a farm and never realized how good that was,” she said. “I love to have these students see what farming is like and realize it’s not your average lifestyle.”
    Weller worked with the other two kindergarten teachers to prepare the students for the tour.
    The teachers used resources provided by Midwest Dairy, including a coloring book, as educational tools. Following the tour, the students received treat cups from the dairy association, Midwest Dairy, Undeniably Dairy and Balchem Corporation, and were quizzed about their knowledge learned on the farm.
    “I have [the kids] put together a little writing about what they saw and liked during the tour,” Weller said.
    Every year, there is resounding enthusiasm for the way students are able to interact with the animals and tour guides at each station.
    “Before, we were milking in a 100-plus-year-old tiestall barn, and it wasn’t built for tours,” Mursu said. “Now, Jeremy is able to walk the kindergartners through the facility.”
    Mursu especially likes how each tour guide puts farming into a perspective young children can relate to.
     When in the milk room, students learned how much the bulk tank holds by comparing its capacity to the number of pails of ice cream that might fit in it. Then, at the calf station, students were asked to remember the cows they saw in the freestall barn and know in two years the calves would be as big as those cows.
    “The children have fun and learn without even realizing it,” Mursu said. “We want it to be safe and fun, and for the kids to learn where their milk comes from. We want them to see how the animals are taken good care of.”
    As dairy farmers, the Mursus realize the importance of hosting events, such as their farm tour, to connect with consumers and encourage support for the industry.
    At the end of the day, their hope is they have created a positive association between children and the dairy products they consume.
    “These kids go home and talk about the farm tour at dinner,” Mursu said. “As part of the two percent that feeds the world, we need to speak out and share what farming is about. We all have different talents and situations, and we can speak out in whatever way fits.”