By Stephanie Vickers, Farm & Food Care
“How do cows go the washroom?” “Why don’t you bring a real cow to school with you?” These are just a couple of the questions that Dawn Stewart hears regularly in her role as an Ontario dairy educator.
Stewart knew from the start that she wanted to help answer consumers’ questions about their food.
After acquiring a degree in nutrition, working at a private school for over a decade, and taking time off to raise two children, Dawn decided to get back into teaching- which is how she found the position of dairy educator with Dairy Farmers of Ontario.
As a Dairy Educator, Stewart travels to schools in the Toronto area to talk about the dairy industry. Annually, she and her partner deliver more than 900 presentations to almost 23,000 students about dairy and farming. There are currently 53 educators in Ontario. In 2016, they did 9,403 presentations to 217,126 students across Ontario.
“It is especially important [in Toronto schools], because there are a lot of kids these days that don’t have the experience on the farm, and they don’t have any idea where their food comes from” says Stewart. Stewart is one of 50 regional educators in the province that are employed by Dairy Farmers of Ontario.
Once hired as a dairy educator, Stewart spent lots of time in training, visiting modern dairy farms to see how they are run. She and her colleagues also visited the University of Guelph to find out the milk is tested before going to the consumer, and a processing facility to see how milk is packed to be taken to the store.
Stewart works with the teachers to make the content she talks about relevant to the curriculum. When going into the classroom, Stewart’s main goals are to have the kids understand:
- How cows are milked, and the respect they receive on farms
- To respect the food we eat, and the process it takes to get the food to the table
- The different healthy options that are available, as well how easy it can be to pick those options
- By talking with the students about where their food comes from, it allows them to better connect to the food they eat and gain a greater appreciation for the work that is required to get it from the farm to the table.
“It has always been important to me that students understand what constitutes good food and bad food, and how they can make those choices, so they can live heathy lives… and I think kids can have a more active role in the foods that they eat” she said.
One of her favourite memories as a dairy educator Stewart says, was during a session at a special education high school “We were trying to make butter and I asked the students to help me shake the whipping cream container. One student was very excited to shake the container, so I passed it to her and with the biggest smile on her face she began to shake… her whole body moved with a fabulous enthusiastic shake but the container did not. It made my day!”
If you would like to get more information on how you can get a dairy educator into a classroom in your area, visit their website www.education.milk.org for contact information. The program is free and can be linked to the curriculum from JK to grade 8.