Carolyn Olson

Carolyn Olson took this selfie ahead of teaching hundreds of fourth graders about pork production at the Ag in the Classroom day held March 10-11 at Minnesota West, Granite Falls Campus. Photo by Carolyn Olson.

GRANITE FALLS, Minn. – Fourth graders from Yellow Medicine, Lac qui Parle and Lyon counties recently learned some new things about farming.

They attended Ag in the Classroom day held March 10-11 at Minnesota West, Granite Falls Campus.

Farmers discussed everything from dairy to turkeys, beef to soybeans and corn. They provided a practical view of what is involved in farming in 2020 and beyond.

“A lot of the kids aren’t farmers,” said Carl Louwagie, co-organizer of the event, and involved with the Yellow Medicine Corn Growers Association, and the county’s Farm Bureau board. “The kids get to experience a broad spectrum overview of agriculture. It’s a great opportunity for them to see what’s involved.”

The presenting farmers included Carolyn Olson, of Olson Organics in Cottonwood, Minn. She talked with the children about farmer lingo – the language that she and her husband Jonathan use when they talk about raising pigs.

She asked who could tell her the definition for a farmer, and some kids raised their hands and answered that a farmer grows crops or livestock. Her next slide substantiated that a farmer is indeed someone who raises crops and/or livestock for a living.

The fourth graders had an equally easy time defining a farm and a pig, but when it came to the definition of a hog – the children didn’t know.

“It’s just another word for pig,” she said. “So, some farmers might call themselves a hog farmer, other farmers will call themselves a pig farmer. We’re talking about the same exact thing.”

The kids also struggled with defining the word, “boar.” They knew that a wild boar was a wild pig, but they hadn’t learned that a pig farm has a boar too. They learned that “domesticated” boars are the pig fathers.

Armed with new knowledge, most of the kids paid close attention as they learned about the pig’s snout or its hoofs. They learned about hog breeds, and that pigs don’t have pink hair. Pigs can have pink skin under short white hair.

The kids also shared their favorite cuts of pork, including pork chops, ribs and loin as well as bacon, pepperoni, sausage and ham.

The kids began asking questions like, “What is the average life of a pig?” and Carolyn answered honestly, “Six months or less. When they come into our barn, they’re about 50 pounds. When they leave our barn, they’re about 275 pounds.”

They ask: “Have you seen a cannibal pig?” She answers, “Yes.” No further explanation was needed.

Carolyn explained that the pigs usually live in long white barns – not red barns because that was too expensive in the past. The Olson’s have decided to put colored tin on their new barns.

“It may have tin on the side, but they also have curtains on the side, so our barns are long and narrow,” she said. Showing a photo, she explained that the farm has two barns, and each barn holds 1,200 pigs. The Olsons walk up a center alleyway and make sure all of the pigs are okay. Each pen holds 25 pigs, and that allows the Olsons to check to make sure no one is sick or hurt.

Water and feed come down tubes into a feed bowl, and the pigs can mix the two together if they want. Temperature controls automatically raise and lower the curtains so the temperature stays perfect for pigs.

“Pigs like to be really warm when they are small, and they don’t like it to be too hot when they’re big,” she said. “The older they get, we lower the temperature and we can do that automatically.”

With that, the 20-minute session is completed and the kids move on to learn about other types of farming.

Paul Kvistad is ready to tell the youth about turkeys. Minnesota ranks first in turkey production in the U.S., and Paul has served on the board of directors for the Minnesota Turkey Association.

“I’m proud of producing turkeys, and I think it’s important to show them that we’re number one in production,” he said.

The kids, he says, are usually surprised that thousands of turkeys are raised in a barn. They are more used to seeing flocks of 10-20 wild turkeys, but wild turkeys don’t feed the world like farm-raised turkeys.

“It’s really important for me as a farmer to share our stories – share our personal story of who we are and why we’re doing what we’re doing,” he said. “Kids love to hear about it. It’s easy to talk about what I do every day.”

Adding to the fun of the event are neon T-shirts given to each child to wear and take home. The bright shirts make it easy to see the kids when they are wearing them – perhaps in a farm setting – to keep them safe. County chapters of Farm Bureau, Minnesota Soybean Growers Association and Minnesota Corn Growers Association sponsored the event and shirts.

“They’ve done a really good job of getting the students here, making that contact and show the importance of why they’re having this event,” said Amanda Revier, program director for the Southwest Area of Minnesota Farm Bureau. “I always learn something every time I listen to these farmers.”