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Virtual Field Trips Give Kids a Taste of Pig Farming

More than 3,300 Ohio fourth- and fifth-grade students have taken virtual field trips to pig farms throughout their state over the past year, due to a program organized by the Ohio Pork Council and Farm Credit Mid-America.

The virtual field trips, conducted via Google Hangouts, give students a live video tour and let them chat with one of several pig farmers who have opened their operations to the program. Hosts include farrow-to-wean farms and finishing farms.

All a classroom needs to participate is a Gmail address, a webcam, and a good internet connection. Farmers connect with tablets and mobile phones as they walk through their facilities.

The virtual field trip includes a tour of the barns, showing how pregnant sows, piglets, and growing pigs are cared for. Farmworkers and veterinarians sometimes join the tour, as well. Some lucky students have been able to see piglets being born.

Neil Rhonemus (pictured above) of Lynchburg, Ohio, known as “Uncle Squeal” to the students, has given tours of his finishing operation. “I think it’s important for farmers like me — untrained in public relations and not hired professionals — to share what we do when asked,” he says. “Just plain people working and owning farms and helping to feed others, caring for the land, animals, and each other. The virtual field trips give us the ability to be interactive in ways we haven’t before.” He says students and teachers often email him after the field trip with additional questions.

The field trips give urban students, who might never have the chance to visit a farm in person, a good feel for farm life. Even rural students who don’t have first-hand experience with large-scale pork production learn something new. “They now understand better what is inside all of the large barns that are in or near our community,” says Betsy Miller, an elementary teacher in New Vienna, Ohio. “It was easy for my kids to understand and a very positive message about where our food comes from.”

The virtual format allows access that in-person guests wouldn’t have. “With the best interest of people and pigs in mind, it’s difficult to allow many visitors to physically enter barns on a pig farm,” says Ohio Pork Council Director of Marketing and Education Jennifer Osterholt. “The virtual field trips provide a sound solution for farmers to open their barn doors and share the ins and outs of being  pig farmers.”

Up to 10 classrooms can join in an interactive live session at the same time, says Osterholt, who facilitates the program. Additional classrooms can watch through a live YouTube link and ask questions via chat. A technology coordinator runs a practice session with teachers beforehand to make sure everything runs smoothly, and students are provided with an activity sheet to help them prepare for the virtual field trip.

Anyone can view recorded virtual field trips on the Ohio Pork Council’s YouTube channel.

The success of Ohio’s program is spreading throughout the Midwest. The Wisconsin Pork Association is connecting classrooms with the Ohio farmers this spring, with hopes of bringing local farmers on board in the future. The Kansas Pork Association will be replicating the program for the coming school year, as well, with the first live session with Kansas pig farmers scheduled for a teacher workshop in June.

Kansas Pork Association Director of Communications Kim Hanke says, “We think the program is a fantastic way to use technology to share the world of farming with students and to network teachers with farmers and organizations that can provide transparent, factual, and real-world resources to enhance their lesson plans.”

Learn more about Ohio’s Virtual Field Trip to a Pig Farm program at ohiopork.org/fieldtrip

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