Local farmer hosts virtual field trip to pig farm


COLUMBUS — Local farmer Lauren Schwab recently welcomed elementary students to her pig barn via a virtual field trip in partnership with the Ohio Pork Council.

While Schwab takes great pride in the work she and her family do at their Somerville farm, there is risk associated with visitors physically entering the pig barn. Google Hangouts, a live video chat platform, provided a sound solution to virtually opening her barn doors to elementary students and sharing with them the ins­and­outs of being a pig farmer.

OPC​ launched its pilot program this past spring,offering virtual field trips to fourth and fifth grade classrooms across the state and providing opportunities for students to see the happenings on real Ohio pig farms.

Through Google Hangouts, students ask questions and have them answered by the farmer, who is hosting the virtual tour live from their barn. An OPC representative and sometimes a veterinarian also participate in the live session.

Three farmers, including Schwab, have hosted five virtual field trips to date, reaching 25 schools and 934 students since March.

Schwab Farms is a farrow to wean farm, meaning the Schwab family takes care of sows and their piglets from birth, until they no longer nurse from their mother. The pigs are then taken to a finishing farm until they reach market weight. “Visitors” to Schwab’s farm include a fourth grade class from Patrick Henry, a fifth grade class from St. Mary’s Edgerton and the fifth grade class from National Trail Middle School. Additional schools have watched the recorded version of the field trip, which is available on ​OPC’s YouTube channel​.

According to OPC’s Jennifer Osterholt, many teachers have submitted feedback, and the program has been very well received.

“I know my kids were surprised to see how clean the barns were, and many had no idea that we don’t feed slop anymore,” said National Trail teacher Janet Ott.

“This event was excellent for my students,” said New Vienna teacher Betsy Miller. “They come from a rural area and several show hogs through 4­H, but none of my students have direct knowledge of the large scale pork production. They now understand better what is inside all of the large barns that are in or near our community.”

“I am really impressed by what a nice job everyone did,” Miller added. “It was easy for my kids to understand and a very positive message about where your food comes from.”

A Columbus teacher said the virtual field trips tie well into daily lessons in economics and social studies, and that her students come from low economic areas that don’t often have opportunities to learn about what life and work is like on a farm.

The Ohio Pork Council plans to continue its Virtual Field Trip to an Ohio Pig Farm program into the 2015­2016 school year. Those interested in participating can contact Jennifer Osterholt at josterholt@ohiopork.org​ or 614­882­5887, or fill out the registration form at ohiopork.org/fieldtrip​.

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