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O'Reilly takes the farm to the classroom

By Janet Kubat Willette

Date Modified: 11/14/2013 8:17 AM

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RED WING, Minn. — Red Wing farmer Carrie O'Reilly took the farm to St. John's Lutheran School as part of a Generation Organic Teach-In.

O'Reilly and her husband, Tony, farm with Tony's brother, Chris, and Chris's wife, Abbey. Together, they operate Green Acres Organic Dairy Farm. They milk 180 Holsteins and operate 580 acres, which includes pasture, hay, corn and small grains. They get help from Tony's father, Dave, and younger brother, Luke.

O'Reilly, who has an education degree, combined her enthusiasm for teaching and farming in her presentations. Her goal was to share some of the joy and pride her own children have in their family farm.

She and Tony have three children, Eleanor, 5, Patrick, 3, and Francis, 19 months. Their children attend St. John's Lutheran School in Goodhue.

In two days, Oct. 22-23, O'Reilly went into every classroom at St. John's Lutheran School, reaching nearly 70 children in preschool through 8th grade. Her presentation was much the same in each classroom -- she talked about her farm and showed pictures of it, then moved on to three, three-minute videos from Organic Valley, ran through a powerpoint presentation, "Health from the Ground Up," and finished with butter making. The entire presentation lasted one hour.

The videos dealt with basic dairy terminology, where milk comes from and how cows turn feed into milk.

For many St. John's students, what O'Reilly talked about wasn't new to them because many are growing up on farms. Rather her presentation was a reflection of their own life in their classroom, she said.

It was her first time taking a dairy message to school, but every spring, Green Acres Organic Dairy hosts preschoolers from Angels Unlimited Preschool in Red Wing.

She was inspired to go into the classroom by Organic Valley, their milk cooperative. Organic Valley launched its first Generation Organic Teach-In last month. Generation Organic farmers visited more than 1,825 students in 84 classrooms across the country.

Generation Organic is a group of Organic Valley farmers ages 16 to 35 who represent the next generation of sustainable agriculture leaders.

O'Reilly said she fits the demographic. She grew up in Zumbrota, and her exposure to agriculture amounted to occasionally helping her best friend milk cows. She learned about organic and sustainable agriculture from her college peers and Tony, who she met at college.

There are several farmers in their area who are younger; a number of Tony's high school peers are taking over their family's farming operations, O'Reilly said.

She hopes to do more dairy presentations, preferably in the winter when things aren't as busy on the farm. O'Reilly helps milk when the men are busy in the field.