Dairy educator travels to local schools to provide industry insight to students

Dairy Farmers of Ontario (DFO) dairy educator Leigh Swinimer of Massey explains her role and recent activities to the annual general meeting of the Sudbury West Manitoulin Dairy Producers held at the United Church hall in Little Current. Photo by Michael Erskine

MASSEY—Dairy Farmers of Ontario (DFO) dairy educator Leigh Swinimer of Massey loves her jobs, spending evenings and weekends giving riding lessons at Rock Island Horses and travelling to local schools during the daytime to provide education on the dairy industry to local students.

“It really is a great job,” she said of her DFO gig. “My children are in school during the daytime and my horse riding lessons are after school in the evenings and on weekends, so it gives me something interesting to do during the day.”

Ms. Swinimer has five main topics that teachers can choose from when she delivers the DFO program, basically tailoring her presentation to their curriculum needs. The topics include dairy farming, dairy goodness, careers (“great for Grade 7 and 8,” she said), processing (cow to fridge) and technology.

The DFO program is a free service for teachers and provides interactive, curriculum-connected in-class workshops for elementary schools across Ontario. “It offers an exciting and interactive learning opportunity for students,” she said. “Teachers can depend on our program to help students acquire an insight into various aspects of the dairy industry.”

There are five good reasons to book the dairy education program, noted Ms. Swinimer. “It comes right to your classroom, you can choose the topic best suited for your classroom, it links directly to the Ontario curriculum, it’s interactive and it’s free,” she said.

The territory covered by Ms. Swinimer stretches from the west of Sudbury across Manitoulin and the North Shore. “Most of the schools I work with are smaller,” she said. “I go to meetings with other educators in Toronto and they will have 10 large schools with hundreds of students.”

Although the schools she deals with tend to be smaller, the course material is much the same and important for students to understand Ontario’s dairy industry.

“When students think of a farm, especially in the urban centres, they think of Old MacDonald in his overalls and plaid shirt,” she said. Today’s farms are as likely to include high technology with robotic milking machines. “It’s about updating the image,” she said. “We are not out there milking 100 cows by hand any more. It is very high tech these days.”

Ms. Swinimer normally works in the classroom, providing teachers with 45 minute sessions that allow them to work on the other things in their classroom that needs to be done while she delivers a program that links in well with the Ontario curriculum, but she also delivers education at local agricultural fairs as well.

“I don’t know if you have seen the big plexiglass cow that you can actually milk,” she said, recalling one display at the Massey Fair. “Sometimes I will go on field trips with the students to local farms to deliver the programing.”

When it comes to getting the message out, Ms. Swinimer is always happy to interact with schools and teachers and she delivers programming to about five to seven schools per year. “I give a lot more presentations than that a year, but a lot of them are at the same school to different grades,” she said.

Ms. Swinimer’s email address is rockislandhorses@gmail.com. “The horse reference sometimes throws people off a bit,” she laughs. “Of course horses give milk too, I hear it is popular in China.” But the address refers to her other gig as a riding instructor.

More information on the OFA educational programs and accompanying course material and resources can be found at www.milk.org.