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Vermontica at Mary Hogan

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By CYRUS LEVESQUE

MIDDLEBURY — Students at Mary Hogan Elementary School had a few guests on Tuesday. Alison Brady, a Wisconsin native who graduated from Middlebury College last month, came to Mary Hogan to give students a lesson in where milk comes from.

To help her presentation, Brady was joined by Vermontica, a five-week-old Holstein calf.

Not so long ago, all Vermont children knew the intimate details of where their milk came from. But for some of the grade-schoolers at Tuesday’s presentations this was the first time they had seen a cow up close and personal.

When each new class came out, they took several minutes to pet and scratch Vermontica, the official state spokescalf, before they got down to the business of dairy facts.

“They got to see the cow once, and… it made them aware of the importance (of dairy),” Brady said.

The presentation, timed to coincide with the start of the June is Dairy Month observance, was assisted by students from the Patricia A. Hannaford Career Center. Students in the Forestry and Natural Resources Class and the Plant and Animal Science class came along to take care of Vermontica and to assist Brady by handing out milk to the children.

Harvey Smith, a Republican state representative from New Haven and a former dairy farmer, was also helping out. “We’re trying to reach out and let our young people know about agriculture here in Addison County,” he said.

Students came out to see the presentation behind the school class by class. Vermontica got to enjoy a pen in a tent, but Brady and the career center students helping her spent most of the presentation between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. in the sun. About 200 students took part in the event over the course of the day, according to Brady.

Students asked and answered questions about cows, like how much milk they produce (about five gallons a day) and how much water they need to drink (about 25 gallons a day), and how many dairy cows live in Vermont (about 160,000).

Since calves grow up, the job of Vermontica is passed on from calf to calf. The heifer who came to Mary Hogan on Tuesday was born on April 28. The youngest students were surprised to see that a month-old calf was as big as they were right now.

Brady’s senior thesis at Middlebury College was on government policy toward the dairy industry in Vermont. She is continuing her work beyond school, though, and Tuesday’s presentation was part of that. She received a grant for $1,500 from the Alliance for Civic Engagement at Middlebury College to fund her efforts to raise awareness about the dairy industry.

According to Brady, she became interested in the dairy industry because it has been an important part of her background. Her immediate family is not involved in farming, but her grandparents were farmers.

And as a Wisconsin native, Brady grew up in a state where the dairy industry is important and went to college in another, so she has a unique perspective. She believed that researching Vermont’s dairy history would reveal a lot about her own roots.

“It would help me figure out what my own history is like in Wisconsin,” she said. “It’s kind of just about finding the dairy roots of America, but it’s pretty much a report on Vermont specifically.”

Smith also serves on the Vermont Dairy Task Force, a group created by Gov. James Douglas in 2005 to develop strategies to help the dairy industry and raise awareness of its importance. He said Tuesday’s presentation was one of several intended to promote the dairy industry. “I hope the children (at the presentation) get an awareness of the agricultural community around them, and greater understanding of where their food comes from.”

And they certainly managed that. At the start of the presentation, the only students who knew answers to most of the questions about cows were the few who lived on farms. Some of the questions were easier than others, but for the less well-known questions like the number of cows in the state, guesses ranged from 1,000 to 1,000,000.

But by the end, they all knew very well where the chocolate milk they were drinking came from.

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