MANKATO — Teachers from across the state who came to south-central Minnesota got to watch calves being born, drive a tractor, tour a swine research center and more.
The Minnesota Department of Agriculture held a tour of area farms, businesses and education facilities Monday and Tuesday for about 40 elementary, middle and high school teachers.
The Minnesota Agriculture in the Classroom program is holding three tours this summer allowing teachers to experience agriculture in action.
“It gives teachers the opportunity to see agriculture in different communities and to think about how they can infuse their experiences into their classrooms,” said Sue Knott, Minnesota Agriculture in the Classroom education specialist.
The first stop on the tour Monday was New Sweden Dairy, where multiple teachers said the highlight was witnessing the birth of two calves.
They also visited the Children’s Museum of Southern Minnesota and learned about its agriculture education initiatives. During a tour of Farmamerica near Waseca, many of the teachers drove a tractor for the first time.
Tuesday started with a tour of All American Foods. Teachers learned they'd probably eat something that day that contains a powered ingredient produced by the company. They watched an ingredient for pumpkin pie be produced and packaged in the factory.
The tour of the adjacent research and development facility included a stop in a test kitchen that looked more like a science laboratory than a traditional kitchen.
“Not a day goes by that we don't use algebra in this room,” Technical Services Director Kathy Jacobson told the teachers.
The business tour, and the taste-testing experiments that followed, was Jessica Bester's favorite experience on the agriculture tour. She came from Ogilvie High School in east-central Minnesota where she teaches food chemistry.
All American Foods food scientist Renee Domingo illustrated the impact of appearance on taste with samples of popcorn, one coated in a white powder and one in orange. After teachers voted on which kind they preferred, they learned they had been tricked. Both cheese coatings were the same except for their color.
Teachers also experienced how genetics influence taste. They tasted compounds that are bitter or salty for some people and virtually tasteless for others.
Bester was among several teachers who said they planned to repeat the taste experiments with their students.
The touring teachers next visited the University of Minnesota Southern Research Center in Waseca where researchers told them about their efforts to improve swine production.
The tour concluded Tuesday with another business tour and taste testing, this time at Chankaska Creek Winery.
In between stops teachers learned about the curriculum lessons available to teachers from Minnesota Agriculture in the Classroom and tried out a few of the hands-on lessons.
Teachers Toni Maki and Lynda Markon came all the way from North Shore Community School on Lake Superior to participate in their second agriculture tour. After participating in a tour last year, they gave a presentation and shared lesson ideas with colleagues. They said they hope to do that again this year.
“You go back and share the excitement with your kids and your colleagues,” Maki said.