Milwaukee — While while most students their age were still in bed, 22 members of the Waupun FFA were busily packing a school bus on Nov. 2 with supplies and loading animals into a truck and trailer. Their mission, to bring agriculture to more than 400 pre-k through 4th grade students at Grantosa Drive Elementary School in Milwaukee.
Last spring the Waupun FFA chapter was one of just 10 chapters in the nation selected to receive a My American Farm grant through the American Farm Bureau. The purpose of the grant is to provide an agriculture experience for students in an urban setting. Earning this grant sent the Waupun FFA chapter members into a brainstorming mode to determine how they could best utilize these funds to make the biggest impact.
“We knew that we had an opportunity to do something special, working with the Milwaukee Public Schools seemed like the perfect way to make the most out of this grant”, said Waupun FFA President Dylon Pokorny.
Chapter Secretary Mykayla Kuhn said the hardest part was trying to limit the topics they wanted to teach.
"We finally agreed on 11 topics," she said.
Topics taught by the Waupun FFA members included Dairy, Crops, By-Products, FFA, Wildlife, Beekeeping, Horticulture, My American Farm Video and Apps, My American Farm Activity, Wisconsin Farms and the Animal Area.
“It was exciting to see the responses of the elementary students when they came outside to see the animals. Some students screamed with delight, while others stood back, afraid of how to respond to seeing the live animals” said Kersten Hartgerink.
“We had a large percentage of these kids who have never seen any of these animals in real life.” Cassidy VanBuren said, recalling a young girl who was thrilled about seeing a pony for the first time. “The only problem that it wasn’t a pony, it was a goat!”
Students at the elementary school spent the morning rotating through the 11 stations gathering a wealth of agricultural items that the Waupun FFA members gathered to help students remember what they learned throughout the activity. Students left the event with a cup of soil containing a vegetable seed that they planted in horticulture, a corn cob eraser, magnets, stickers, a honey stick, activity books, coloring books, fresh string cheese and so much more.
Larry Brewer, Chapter Community Service Chair and Logan Pluim, Chapter Food for America Chairman said that the most challenging part of the day came during their presentation.
“We had a farm display and I was pointing out that this is where the food that they eat comes from. I looked over and saw a little girl tugging on Larry’s pant leg.”
“She looked up at me and said that sometimes mommies don’t have money to buy food” shared Larry. “That was tough, how do you respond to that?”
The importance of educating the consumer about where their food comes from and the issue of food insecurity became a real life lesson for all of the Waupun students. There is no doubt that the high school students learned as much as the elementary students did. While just a little more than an hour physically separates the two schools, the differences between the two schools are many.
The key to coordinating this event was Gail Kraus, UW-Madison Outreach Specialist from Milwaukee Vincent. Costello said Kraus jumped at the idea of bringing Waupun to Milwaukee.
“I knew that partnering with the Waupun FFA would be great”, said Kraus. “As Tari and I talked we agreed that we wanted this to be the beginning of a relationship between our schools. Everyone had the opportunity to grow and learn from this experience.”
In addition to presenting at Grantosa Drive Elementary, the Waupun FFA members partnered with two FFA members and two FFA Advisors from Milwaukee Vincent to teach one of the sessions. This represented just the beginning of a partnership between Grantosa Drive Elementary, Milwaukee Vincent and Waupun High School.
Plans are already being made to not only go back to Grantosa, but to also have the Milwaukee Vincent students travel to Waupun to work with our agriculture students and for our students to travel there all in an effort to learn more about each program.
So, what did the students and staff of Grantosa Drive Elementary think about the day?
“They loved the day! They were soaking in everything that the Waupun students were teaching them. We can’t wait for them to come back,” stated Kraus.
Emily Schwanke, Waupun FFA Vice President summed up the day best.
“This was an amazing day! This day proved to all of our members the importance of always being ready to share the agriculture message. I can’t wait to go back!” she said.