Redding attends educational field trip to Westmoreland County dairy farm

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Pennsylvania Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding applauds and thanks Jason Frye, of Pleasant Lane Farms, for hosting him and dozens of kindergarten students for a field trip on May 27. (Rachel Wagoner photo)

LATROBE, Pa. — On his first visit to Pleasant Lane Farms in spring 2019, Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding recalled talking with the Frye family about their vision for the future. 

The farm had just received a $360,000 grant from the Pennsylvania Dairy Investment Program to build an on-farm creamery to make and sell cheese from their herd’s milk. In addition to the new cheesemaking facility, they wanted to build a classroom, a free stall barn and robotic milking parlor with biosecure walkways to accommodate educational tours.

“I remember standing down by the machine shed with the dad, talking about his hope that he could transition the farm,” Redding said. “It was predicated on them being able to come together as a family to figure out what the dairy would look like.”

When he visited again on May 27, Redding saw that vision become a reality. He tagged along with more than 120 kindergarten and first grade students from nearby elementary schools as they toured the farm for an educational field trip.

“To feel all the energy that’s here, it’s gratifying,” he said. “It’s reassuring in so many ways that there are people who want to do this but also, there’s a community of appreciation for it.”

Students from Latrobe Elementary School and Valley School of Ligonier rotated through 12 stations, spending 10 minutes at each area. The stations included watching the robotic milking machine in action, seeing what cows eat, learning about animal health from a local veterinarian, meeting a calf and milking a life-size replica dairy cow.

After lunch, the students finished their trip with ice cream from Vale Wood Farms, in Loretto, Pennsylvania.

The busy morning capped off a week of farm tours from several schools from the Pittsburgh area, said Jason Frye, one of the brothers that now runs the farm.

The education piece was a big part of the grant application and the vision for the farm’s future. They hosted students of all ages this year, as well as groups of adults from local clubs or community groups.

The farm has been a part of Latrobe Elementary School’s farm visit for the past eight years, said Marian Ferlin. Ferlin, a kindergarten teacher, has been organizing this field trip for the kindergarten students at the elementary school for 24 years. She also incubates and hatches chicken eggs in her classroom. 

It’s important to expose children to local agriculture, she said. She grew up on a local farm where they raised most of their own food. Her family, the Stases, have been friends with the Fryes through the area’s agricultural community. Now, most of her students are from the city or suburbs.

“We need to bring people back to the farm and make them aware of where their food comes from and … those core values that are taught from growing up on a farm,” she said.

Field trips like this could plant the seed for some students about the options for future careers. 

“That’s where people are inspired,” Redding said. “Many years from now, we hope to look back and say, they want to be the farmer. They want to be the veterinarian, nutritionist or designing whatever the next generation of technology is. All of that is in these buildings today.”

(Reporter Rachel Wagoner can be reached at rachel@farmanddairy.com or 800-837-3419.)

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Rachel is a reporter with Farm and Dairy and a graduate of Clarion University of Pennsylvania. She married a fourth-generation beef and sheep farmer and settled down in her hometown in Beaver County. Before coming to Farm and Dairy, she worked at several daily and weekly newspapers throughout Western Pennsylvania covering everything from education and community news to police and courts.

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