As more than a dozen teachers looked on, a machine slowly made its way up and down a field of turf grass at Dunteman's Sod Farms in Kaneville. Large and noisy, the machine was efficient as it measured, cut up and gathered sections of the sod as part of the harvesting process.
It was part of the Kane County Farm Bureau’s Summer Ag Institute, a weeklong program that brings teachers onto farms. The purpose, according to the farm bureau’s website, is teachers will “have the opportunity to apply new understanding in developing new and unique classroom lessons for easy integration into their curriculum.”
The teachers participating in last week's program were from schools in St. Charles, Batavia, Aurora and Elgin. Among the hosts were Dunteman's farm, as well as the Maple Park-based Gould Farms, where teachers were able to learn about that farm's hog operation. Those were just two of several stops throughout the week, and participants said they were able to check out farm equipment, drive tractors and see how McDonald's Quarter Pounders are made.
Margo Quaintance, a librarian at Davis Primary School in St. Charles School District 303, said she had been urged by some teachers to take the course. As she reflected on some of the experiences of the week, she said she was glad she did.
“It’s been an eye-opening week,” Quaintance said.
The teachers arrived at the sod farm in a large white van. After a short talk with Bill Dunteman about the operation, they headed out to the fields to get a closer look. They watched the harvesting of some sod, walking along as the machine did its work. After the turf was stacked on a palette, Dunteman invited teachers to gather closer. He told them sod is a two-year crop, talked about the farm’s mowing procedure, the use of pesticides and the push for an organic product. He said the farm is a supplier for Menard’s.
Afterward, Rebecca Dunning, a first-grade teacher at Greenman Elementary School in West Aurora School District 129, said there was much she learned from the experience. She said the teachers acquired information to bring back to their classrooms, adding it was useful because many students have not been on farms. Quaintance agreed, adding “some of our kids will never, ever, be on a farm.”
Another Greenman teacher, Danette Deligiannis, said kids can get a glimpse of farms, such as field trips to Blackberry Farm in Aurora, but that’s a different kind of experience than a modern, working farm.
“I wish there was more of an opportunity for kids to see it,” Deligiannis said.
At Gould Farms, participants listened to Chris Gould’s presentation on hog breeding. He explained artificial insemination is the exclusive method, and he talked of how a boar will walk through a sow center, and how workers can tell from the sows’ reaction which ones are ready to breed. He said those at the farm do all they can to maintain comfort for the piglets, including maintaining a warmer environment for them, while the mother pigs near to them are in cooler conditions.
“It’s in our absolute best interest to keep the animals happy,” Gould said.
Among those in the group were Ryan Klassy, the farm bureau’s information director, and Suzi Myers, the bureau’s ag literacy coordinator.
Myers said this was an introductory course, and a second class also is available. She said there is a good reason to provide such opportunities. According to the American Farm Bureau Federation, the average American is now at least three generations removed from the farm. She said while it’s true that many students never had been on farms, she added many teachers haven’t had that opportunity, either.
Quaintance said the teachers enjoyed their participation. She said when students have questions about farms, she can provide an improved answer.
“Now we can bring the farm to them, through our experiences,” Quaintance said.