Kindergarten Farm Day: A Community Stewardship Lesson from Fergus Falls, Minnesota

June 11, 2019 |
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Kindergarten students from Fergus Falls Public Schools, Pelican Rapids Public School, and local home school students participate in "Kindergarten Farm Day" and visit Red Horse Ranch, Fergus Falls, Minnesota.

Dennis Wutzke's of Fergus Falls Public Schools in Minnesota received a $1,060 Grants in Place award to support the "Kindergarten Farm Day" project. This event was coordinated by Fergus Falls FFA Chapter students in conjunction with the Fergus Falls Kindergarten teachers, M-State, and Red Horse Ranch. Roughly 275 kindergarten students from Fergus Falls Public Schools, Pelican Rapids Public School, and local home school students participated in the event. FFA members along with staff and students from Red Horse Ranch and M-State guided students through four learning stations.

Grants in Place is a modest grant program that encourages rural school district teachers across the country to engage their students in place-based learning. We believe that place-based education gives meaning to learning, strengthens the bonds between school and community, and instills pride in the cultures and histories of rural places and small towns. This approach has a keen focus on student engagement, learning outcomes, and community impact.

Our Minnesota Grants in Place program funding is provided by the West Central Initiative with matching support from the Rural Schools Collaborative and local sources.

We are pleased to provide this final report on "Kindergarten Farm Day" from Mr. Wutzke:

"The Fergus Falls (MN) FFA Chapter in conjunction with Red Horse Ranch hosted a Kindergarten Farm Day. All kindergarten students were bussed from Fergus Falls and Pelican Rapids Public Schools, along with several home-schooled students to Red Horse Ranch just outside Fergus Falls, MN.

Once arriving at the ranch, students were brought together as one large group and the manager of Red Horse Ranch gave them an introduction of what they were going to experience. He explained what they were going to see, touch and hear. He went over some of the safety things they need to be aware of. One that got most of the 5 and 6 year old’s attention was how horses love baby carrots. And to horses, fingers look like baby carrots. So don’t put your fingers in front of the horses’ mouth because they may bite them.

The Fergus Falls FFA Chapter works a petting zoo at our 4-day county fair in the summer. State regulations forces us to hang signs by some animals prohibiting anyone from touching them for various reasons. It is hard for young kids to understand that. Our philosophy for this day is we want them to touch baby calves and goats. They get to hold baby chicks and rabbits. We try to explain to them how fragile they are and how they are responsible for their safety. It makes an impact.

After they have a brief large group meeting they are split into four groups. One group will go with the manager and visit some horse stalls. He goes over taking care of horses and other animals. They get to see a Mare and Foal and he will explain how she protects and takes care of it, and why people need to be careful around an “animal” mommy and her baby.

A second group will hear FFA members explain where their food comes from. On a table there are various grains such as oats, wheat, corn, etc. Behind the grains are foods which are manufactured from those grains such as Cheerios, Wheaties, bread, pasta, Corn Flakes, etc. We have some toys there representing equipment which seeds and harvests the grain. FFA members try and explain the connection between the toys, the grain, and the food. Most of this is done by questioning them on what they like to eat. Not surprising, pizza and Mac n Cheese are the most popular. This allows us to make a great connection. Also at the table are such things as eggs and little cartons of milk they get in school. When they are told 38,000 cartons of milk come from one dairy cow each year there are a lot of “wows”. Fun to hear.

The third group goes through the petting animals and climbing into a tractor area. FFA members all bring their farm animals to share. (By the way, it is impossible to keep baby goats in a pen). The goats are walking (sometimes running) around with the kindergarten kids. Interesting to see how different the reactions are from the kids. Some just bend down and pet or hug them, others shy away and look for their teacher. Again this is a hands on activity. We encourage students to touch the chickens, hold the chicks, and pet the calves. They climb into the tractor and sit in the seat with their friends.

The fourth group goes on a hayride. Always a highlight for the 6 year olds and honestly for the adults. A couple FFA members bring their tractors and hay wagons, and the students get a tour of the ranch. No staff person is trying to tell them anything on the ride. They are welcomed to talk to each other, yell to hear an echo, or chew on a piece of hay or straw. Just as long as they stay sitting while we are moving. Lots of smiles as they are helped off the wagon. Each rotation is about 25 minutes. The entire field trip will run just over 2 hours.

Thanks to the Grants-in-Place program, none of this would be possible. Bussing of the students has become an impossible expense for the FFA Chapter to cover. We have been doing the Kindergarten Farm Day for roughly 5 or 6 years. Since our first year, bussing expenses have tripled, especially of we need an handicapped bus. We can no longer budget for this in our fundraising efforts, and still try and do the other leadership activities FFA has to offer.

What does this day mean to the 275 students? I will share pictures which will answer that question. I visited with a Kindergarten teacher later that afternoon. I told her I would have hated being on the bus on the way back to school with all the students jazzed up. She said it was quite the opposite. They were wiped out. One little girl fell asleep on her shoulder during the 15 minute ride back to the school. The students and teachers look forward to this day all year. It is the highlight of their spring. There is some pre-teaching done prior to the event in the classrooms which helps students make the connections more valuable. Not only do the students enjoy this, but we are getting more and more parents joining their sons and daughters than ever before. This year the parking lot was full of parents who took a couple of hours off of work to join us. So cool. I would guess we had roughly 100 adults in addition to the students. Every student goes home with a bag that includes a coloring book about agriculture, a box of crayons, and other items we get sponsored by the Dairy, Beef, Pork or Poultry Council.

What does this mean to the FFA members? This is also one of their highlights of the year. It is a lot of work organizing animals, tractors, wagons, setup and tear down all while keeping their schoolwork on track for their end of the year exams. Since we do this in mid-May, we are two weeks from final tests. FFA members who host this event have proven themselves able to balance it all. They do a great job and I am proud of them. At the end of a busy day, they go home dirty, tired, and mentally exhausted. As an advisor and teacher, that puts a smile on my face.

THANK YOU to the Grants in Place program for their part. You will never know how many students and parents you made an impression on in two hours. They will remember this for the rest of their lives. I can see it in all their faces."

Thanks to West Central Initiative, a regional community foundation based out of Fergus Falls, MN, for supporting our Minnesota Grants in Place program.

We invite you to learn more about our 2018-19 Grants in Place program! Also, we encourage you to check out our web section on the value of place-based education.

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