A Virtual Farm Field Trip Teaches Students Milk Comes from Cows, Not Cartons

A virtual farm field trip can help students learn about food production

According to 7% of the U.S. population, chocolate milk comes only from brown cows.

That insight came from an Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy survey that also found that 48% of respondents couldn’t say for sure where chocolate milk comes from. (Although, to be fair, there is some debate on how accurate these numbers actually are).

Still, everyone surveyed in that sample was an adult, 18 or older, and if they are a representative sample of the U.S. today, somebody somewhere has some explaining to do. How does a person go through at least a dozen years of schooling and not understand the basics of milk production, especially when nearly 50 billion pounds of milk was sold last year in the U.S.?

If the problem is that most students and schools are too far removed from the farms and factories that mass produce our milk to understand its intricacies, then we think video calling technology is the solution.

A virtual farm field trip using video conferencing can ensure every American student knows milk comes from cows, not cartons.

Where Do Hamburgers Come From?

It isn’t just milk that we find hard to understand.

Another study, published in the Journal of Agricultural Education and aimed at fourth-, fifth-, and sixth-graders in California, had some more disturbing findings, all centered around our fast food staple the hamburger:

  • Half the students didn’t know pickles were cucumbers
  • Half didn’t know onions and lettuce were plants
  • Almost a third didn’t know cheese was made from milk
  • 40% of students didn’t know hamburger meat came from cows

Knowing what your hamburger is made of doesn’t affect the taste at all, but it does impact your ability to understand the wider society in which you live. It affects how well you understand what you’re putting into your body, and it affects how you understand budgeting, pricing, and supply and demand. The cost of the food put in front of you each night is obviously tied up in its production and delivery, so if you’re teaching kids about the microeconomics of the world around them it makes sense they get the full picture. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. There are plenty of other good reasons why kids–and adults–should know where their food comes from.

So how do we teach that? A great way is to show people in person where their food starts out. And a cheap, quick way to do that is to travel by video conference.

Putting the Technology in Place for Virtual Trips

Virtual field trips have become more popular in America in recent years due to two declines–the cost of video conferencing equipment, and the field trip budgets of schools (we’ve talked about tightening budgets in more detail in our post about the cost-effectiveness of field trips by video conference). Now, about 75% of U.S. students attend a school that has high-speed broadband, and technology trends in education are bringing more and more video conferencing and tools for video conferencing, like personal laptops and tablets, into classrooms. This means the tech and the connection are already there, making VC a cheaper and easier way to make a connection with a farmer than to bus 30 kids all the way out to pasture.

Of course, for the connection to work, the farmer on the other end of the classroom video call needs to be to be seen and heard, but with the amount of technology currently powering farms, a simple internet connection shouldn’t be a problem.

With a link in place across a video calling app like Skype or Google Hangouts (and remember both are still free at the basic level), a farmer can accept a video call on his smartphone or tablet and wonder around the paddocks, dragging dozens of children with him and responding to chicken-or-the-egg questions in real time.

Staring up at a flat screen TV on their classroom wall, the students can watch a farmer pluck and shake the dirt off a head of lettuce, milk a cow, or load up a milk truck destined for a cheese factory. That one farmer could reach thousands of students across dozens of states each year, providing he could put up with answering the question, “where does chocolate milk come from?” a few hundred times.

The Ultimate Virtual Farm Field Trip

In Australia, something like this is getting started. An Australian farmer recently visited with more than 40 schools over a three-day period via video conferencing. He wasn’t fortunate enough to have the luxury of staying on his farm while making his educational tour, though. Instead, he drove into a video conferencing studio in the city to talk to the kids.

The travel obviously runs counter to the idea of video conferencing as a convenient technology, but the idea of a dedicated video conferencing studio has potential.

Perhaps one of the California school boards, for instance, could sponsor a few select farmers of different products across the nation and equip them with specialized video calling tech to make virtual trips a regular feature of the curriculum. Our example earlier in this piece had a farmer carry the classroom on his smartphone, but a more fixed service could include advanced features such as 4K Ultra HD, streaming media pumped out across shared screens, and a central link to live streaming webcams set up around the property. This would avoid any fiddling with technology, lagginess, or unpredictability, all of which are still issues with video calling.

But even with the most basic video conferencing setup, the idea seems like a quick and easy way to get thousands of school children at least a glimpse of where their food comes from. As a bonus, if each one of those children could then return home with tales of where milk comes from, the nation as a whole might become a little more chocolate milk-literate.

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