BALLSTON SPA, N.Y. — There’s no end to the work that Matt Luke could be doing around his Harvest Hill Farms in Clifton Park, N.Y., especially in spring, when calves are being born and crops need planting.
But the dairyman took time out of his busy schedule for an Agriculture Field Day because he knows the importance of helping kids understand what farming is all about.
More than 600 first- to third-graders from six school districts took part in the May 15 event at Saratoga County 4-H Training Center in Ballston Spa, N.Y.
“Everybody should know where their food comes from,” Luke said. “It’s important for us as farmers to let our neighbors know what we do. You need a farmer three times a day.”
His farm, with 55 milk cows, is one of the few remaining dairies left in densely populated southern Saratoga County, a suburb of nearby Albany, the state capital.
Kids at the event looked on in amazement at a 2-day-old calf and the different types of feed that Luke brought, to explain what cows eat.
The newborn’s diet is fresh milk.
“As she gets older, her diet will change to other feeds like haylage, corn meal and sometimes cottonseed,” Luke explained. “This time of year, if they could get out in it, their favorite would be grass. We just don’t have enough pasture.”
Constraints from commercial and residential development is just one of the farm’s many challenges, a valuable lesson for kids to understand.
“Where is the mother?” a young boy asked.
“She’s home in the barn making money for us (milking),” Luke said.
Another kid stumped him with a question: “Are pigs good for anything without killing them?”
“I don’t know,” Luke said, smiling. “I’m a dairy farmer.”
The students’ curiosity was sparked by all kinds of farm animals including sheep, horses and chickens. Plant and animal life sciences are part of the state’s core curriculum requirements for this age group. The outdoors event complements classroom lessons.
“It broadens their horizons and gives them an appreciation for the different kinds of work people do,” said Melanie Donohue, a Greenfield Elementary School teacher. “It’s also a practical application about science in the real world. They’re learning things that a plant needs — more than a textbook understanding — and how we get food from animals on farms.”
Volunteer presenter Ted Beebe told kids how to grow a “garden of friends” by planting things together that help each other. “If we plant a lot of flowers with our vegetables, it confuses the bugs,” he said. “Marigolds are good. Bugs don’t like the way they smell.”
Then he described different types of herbs.
“Tomatoes really love it when they’re planted with basil,” Beebe said. “It helps them taste better. Mint grows well with almost all vegetables.”
Saratoga County Dairy Princess Marie Shorkey showed kids how to make butter.
Children also learned that New York is the nation’s second-leading apple producer and got to sample fruit from a local farm.
The event highlights the diversity of local agriculture. For example, David Wood and Don Monica showed kids the tools they use for their respective operations — beekeeping and maple production.
Hannah Bramer and her father, Lee, of Blue Corners Farm in Charlton, N.Y., demonstrated how to shear sheep.
“It’s just like getting a haircut,” Hannah said. “These are scissors — just a lot bigger and sharper.”
The annual field day is organized by 4-H outreach educator Julie Curren, who goes into schools throughout Saratoga County, putting on programs for more than 9,000 children each year. Students from Saratoga Springs, Ballston Spa, Mechanicville, Schuylerville, St. Clement’s and Saratoga Central Catholic Christian schools were in attendance.
For more information, Curren may be contacted at 518-885-8995 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.