Colorado Dairy Turns Students into Advocates with Farm Workshops

Dairy farmers are essential in America. They provide the product for some of the most delicious and nutritious foods available. However, with only 2 percent of Americans in agriculture, and even fewer having ever been on a farm, the disconnect between the farm and table is more apparent than ever before.

Dairy farmers Jon Slutsky and his wife Susan Moore, who own and operate La Luna Dairy in Wellington, Colo., picked up on this disconnect years ago, and started a program that not only teaches consumers about the many aspects of a dairy – it makes them excited to be on the farm.

It all started in 2005 when Wellington Middle School eighth grade science teacher Vicki Jordan noticed her students complaining about the odor from the nearby dairy farm. Jordan thought that the students shouldn’t be upset about the odor – they should accept and embrace it. She contacted Slutsky and Moore to work on a program that she could make part of her classroom curriculum. Slutsky and Moore were more than happy to help her and welcomed the opportunity to educate students about dairy. Jordan taught her students about the nitrogen cycle and had her students explore the waste cycle. Then the students got to the best part of the curriculum: going to the farm.

When the students tour the farm, they take part in six different workshops that are focused on dairy and tied into the science they learned about in the classroom.

The workshops include milking procedures, dairy products, feed/nutrition, special needs, manure management and a station where students could observe and ask questions. Each workshop is led by different experts from the industry, including professors from Colorado State University (CSU). Each station gave the students a better understanding of the different aspects of a dairy farm.

“Middle school students and their parents get to learn about how Jon and Susan ensure milk quality, dairy cow health and wellbeing and they also learn about what dairy operations do in order to preserve environmental quality,” explains Dr. Noa Roman-Muniz, a CSU dairy extension specialist and associate professor who has helped with the program since it began. “As a CSU faculty member, I feel privileged to get this opportunity to interact with our consumers and describe all that our dairy producers do to produce safe and nutritious food.”

With the success of the first tour in 2005, La Luna Dairy has continued to partner with Wellington Middle School each year, and welcomes each eighth grade class to their farm to educate the students and turn them into dairy advocates.

“Teaching on the farm makes a huge difference because the kids get to see it happen,” said Moore. “The kids take what they learn and really understand agriculture after they do the tour.”

In 2015, Slutsky and Moore hosted their tenth consecutive tour, and had over 150 eighth graders on their dairy – and describe it as their best year yet. They love watching the veterinarians and industry professionals interact with the students. They explain that seeing the sparks of excitement on the kids’ faces when they get to the dairy – whether it’s because they have older siblings that had come before or because it’s a totally new experience – is part of what makes the program so meaningful to them. Slutsky and Moore know they are bringing education to the community, and look forward to being able to do it year after year.

Complaints about the smell of the manure from their community since implementing this program have been rare and Slutsky and Moore feel the dairy is more valued in the community. In fact, they go so far as to also work with other groups from their community and offer all they can through the dairy. They allow different departments from CSU to come to their dairy to do studies – including sociological, labor, health and environmental research.

Franklyn Garry, a professor and Veterinarian Extension Specialist at CSU who helps with the tours, believes that Slutsky and Moore are doing an important public service as they welcome the school tours to La Luna Dairy. In his experience, when people visit a modern farm and meet the owners face-to-face and see how the operation runs, it dramatically changes their impressions of livestock production systems in a very favorable way. Garry also believes it would be great if more dairy farmers and other livestock producers could see how positive it is to welcome the public to their facilities.

“Participating with La Luna dairy’s School Farm Tour is a rewarding investment of time. It’s good to feel the enthusiasm of the kids for learning about the operation and about how modern dairy agriculture works,” said Garry. “It’s good to know that we are dispelling some of the misconceptions about dairy production that surround us in the modern world. And it’s good to feel the pride that Jon and Susan have in opening their doors to these neighbors.”

For Slutsky and Moore, teaching the community about dairy and helping others is just being a good neighbor.

“We have to be connected to the community since it’s in our front yard,” said Slutsky. “Plus, it’s nice to have friends in the business community and it’s great to be recognized and thanked for a being a dairy farmer.”

Slutsky and Moore totally understand the value of making sure their community knows the importance of dairy and agriculture. They believe that at this point in their careers, they need to help the industry – and that all the things they have done, and continue to do, ensures not only that they fit into their community, but that their community embraces the whole dairy industry for the long run.

About La Luna Dairy 

Neither Jon Slutsky nor Susan Moore had agricultural backgrounds. IN 1981 they started acquiring animals when they began dairying and decided to rent a dairy that milked 64 head of cattle – and then went to Colorado State University to get training in dairying. Fast forward 34 years, and they now own and operate their own dairy where they milk over 1,500 cows. Slutsky and Moore raised their daughter, Raisa Slutsky-Moore on the dairy.

Their commitment to community is demonstrated not only through their ties to Wellington Middle School, but also through private contributions to various groups such as the Larimer County Food Bank, the Red Cross (Women’s Shelter) and volunteer work to support their ideals and beliefs. La Luna Dairy is a founding member of the Wellington Area Chamber of Commerce, and Jon is a former Board Director.

By Jordan Manning

Jordan grew up in the cattle industry and uses her love of agriculture every day to help people understand more about their food. She previously worked at the Texas Beef Council. When she's not working, Jordan enjoys cheering for the Aggies. Learn more about Jordan