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May 01, 2003   Email to Friend 

ALABAMA DAIRY PRODUCERS BRING COWS INTO THE CLASSROOM
Jeff Helms
(334) 613-4212
May 01, 2003

Mobile Dairy Classroom Instructor Matt Armbrester teaches students at Dozier Elementary School in Montgomery about how milk is produced.
MONTGOMERY, Ala.-- Excited screams filled the air around Dozier Elementary School in Montgomery as fourth-graders scurried to avoid being squirted by milk from a rather contented cow named Mandy.

Once they settled back down, Matt Armbrester, instructor for the Alabama Dairy Producers' Mobile Classroom, continued his lesson. For the next 30 minutes or so, the students sat riveted as he described how milk is produced and what other products are made from the wholesome liquid.

"It's important to educate kids about where our food comes from," Armbrester said. "Many have absolutely no idea how milk is produced."

Alabama dairy farmers agree. That's why they hired Armbrester to travel the state with a customized cattle trailer, teaching school children about cows. The trailer, which is pulled behind a pickup truck, comes equipped with a real dairy cow, a fully operational milking parlor and all the supplies Armbrester needs.

"This is excellent," said Eloyse Jackson, a fourth-grade teacher at Dozier Elementary. "It gives the students hands-on experience. It gets them out of their seats and takes them away from the pencil and paper for a while. It's especially good for kids in our area because many of them live in apartments, and they don't get exposed to farm animals. This really brings it home to them."

The Mobile Dairy Classroom is modeled after a similar program in Texas, which is sponsored by the Southwest Dairy Farmers and Lone Star Milk Producers. The 32-foot classroom is funded by producer checkoff funds.

During Armbrester's class, the students learn the parts of a dairy cow, what she eats, why she makes milk, how many servings of milk a person needs each day, what dairy farmers do to keep milk clean and scores of other facts. Most importantly, Armbrester said, the class gives students an opportunity to ask questions.

"I really enjoy working with these kids. Some of the questions they ask are great," Armbrester said. "My personal goal is to get into more inner city schools because many of them have never even seen a cow. And, from my experience, those kids often are the most interested."

Armbrester has been on the road almost every day since mid March, sometimes visiting as many as three schools a day. A native of Talladega County, he was raised on a beef cattle and cotton farm. After high school, Armbrester played college football and earned a degree in criminal justice from Troy State University. He also has been a youth director for his church. Combine that with his farm experience, and it makes him a very effective ambassador for the dairy industry.

"I really liked it," said fourth-grader Taylor Dillard of Armbrester's lesson. "We learned how she (Mandy) eats, and that she eats stuff like oats and peanut shells. We learned that they make all kinds of things from milk like ice cream and TV screens."

J.R. Harmon, another Dozier Elementary fourth-grader, said he liked learning about how farmers make sure the milk stays clean, and he learned that cows have four stomachs.

Mandy is one of two cows Armbresters uses in his traveling demonstrations. Both she and her partner, Christy, are registered Holsteins from the Shelby County farm of Wayne and Randy Bearden.

The Mobile Dairy Classroom is free to schools. Armbrester said he likes to have about 200 students in each class. Teachers and school administrators interested in scheduling a visit may call Armbrester at (256) 223-1977.


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