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Indiana dairy farm mom has passion for school tours

PD Editor Emily Caldwell Published on 08 June 2011

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Opening up a dairy farm to more than 18,000 people over the course of a year is pretty impressive. When you take into account that the majority of those people are under the age of six, you gain a whole new level of respect for this dairy farm mom of three.

Meet Amy Kelsay, who grew up on a hog operation and married into the dairy industry after attending Purdue University and meeting her husband, Joe.

The couple, along with Joe’s brother, Russ and his wife Liz, make up the sixth generation at Kelsay Farms in Whiteland, Indiana, a 2,200-acre operation with a milking herd of nearly 530 cows.

In addition to obtaining a master’s degree in agricultural economics from the University of Illinois, Amy spent five years as a 4-H and youth educator with Purdue Extension. In 2005, she decided to stay home with her growing family. The Kelsay family had offered group tours for more than 30 years, and Amy soon found herself with the title of tour coordinator — a role she adopted with a passion.

Be sure to view Amy's farm tour tips in the below.

Creating a business
The farm is a hop, skip and jump away from Greenwood, which lies just south of the city limits of Indianapolis. Given the farm’s proximity and Amy’s enthusiasm, word about Kelsay Farms tours spread quickly.

Amy saw an opportunity for a new venture, and in 2007, Kelsay Farm Tours LLC was created. That first year, more than 3,000 students, parents and teachers were provided with a hands-on experience of an Indiana dairy farm.

Today those wanting to check out Kelsay Farms have a variety of options, depending on the season. For the month of April, the farm hosts school groups during the day and youth groups, such as boy scouts and girl scouts, in the afternoons.

In the summer for about three weeks, youth attending camps in the area are able to tour the farm on field trips. And in October, the public is welcome to “Experience the Farm,” which is a special weekend program featuring a corn maze, hayrides and self-guided tours of the dairy. Amy also offers school tours again in October.

Tricks of the trade
With nearly doubling the number of tour-goers for each year of the business, Amy says she’s learned a few lessons along the way.

One fairly simple task was aligning the tour activities with Indiana’s academic standards.

“Any state education website has a listing of their standards, and what we were teaching anyway aligned with science, history and health,” she explains. “We just needed to put it on paper and say, ‘When you’re on our farm tour, you’ll meet these requirements.”

Amy says the requirements for pre-kindergarten, kindergarten and first grade are pretty basic, such as interaction with an animal.

Another piece of knowledge Amy picked up over the past four years was learning how to work the tours around the daily activities of the farm, including milking.

“When we first started bringing groups into the parlor and trying to describe what they were seeing, we noticed the cows were more skittish, and milk production even dropped slightly during those hours,” she says.

The solution was to gather the students in the milkhouse just outside the parlor, explain what they’re about to see through an educational poster and then ask them to remain quiet as they enter through the door. The layout of the parlor allows the children to line up single file down the center of the milking pit.

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To see more of Amy’s tricks of the trade, click to view the photo slideshow.

Connecting with multiple generations
Amy has also learned a great deal about communicating — not only with the youngsters, but also with their teachers and parents.

“I almost know the questions people are going to ask before they ask them because I get asked those same questions all the time — with the kids especially but even the grown-ups,” she says.

Some of the most common topic areas Amy discusses with her audiences relate to production practices, such as organic vs. conventional, and milk quality. And when it comes to explaining her position, Amy thinks being a mother herself gives her an advantage.

“When I have a group of 30 pre-schoolers here, I also have 30 moms. And they’re the ones making the [food purchasing] decisions in their homes,” Amy says. “So if I can talk to them about what kind of milk we drink in our home, and why I choose that for my kids, I feel like it means a little more coming from another mother.”

Amy along with her sister-in-law Liz have made an effort to connect with moms online, as well. The pair have been establishing an online presence through their blog, “ Two Maids a Milking ,” since April 2010. They each post blogs on a variety of topics, including farm activities, family life and lots of recipes.

In addition to the blog, the pair mantain the Kelsay Farms website , Facebook page and Twitter account , all of which have helped lead to new tour groups and new avenues for ag industry education. While Amy enjoys connecting online, she prefers educating in person, and her favorite group, by far, are the school tours.

052611_kelsay2 “I just love the interaction with the kids. The busses will pull in, and you’ll hear all the kids screaming with excitement,” she says, laughing. “I’ll be going, ‘Yes!,’ and everyone else around here is running back to the barn saying, ‘We’ve got to get away from the kids.’ I’m like, ‘Yay! Let me at ‘em!’”

Her second favorite group of visitors to Kelsay Farms?

“I’ve seen a lot of grandparents bringing the grandkids to the farm because they want to make sure the kids know what it’s like to milk a cow and to tell them how things used to be when they were a kid,” she says, adding that watching these types of conversations take place is rewarding.

She recognizes that there’s a lot that goes into giving tours — money, time, energy — but she says it’s a worthwhile investment.

“If anyone is thinking about doing this on their farm, they should go for it,” she says. “The need is there — we’ve seen that on our farm just by the growth in numbers. People want that connection to the farm, and giving people that place to come is so important.” PD

PHOTOS
TOP RIGHT: Amy Kelsay of Whiteland, Indiana, has a passion forpromoting dairy to people of all ages. As a mom of three youngsters, she has a special fondness for educating kindegartners and first graders. Photo by PD Editor Emily Caldwell.

MIDDLE RIGHT: While other members of the Kelsay family start running the other direction when they see school busses pull in, Amy can't wait for the fun to get started. Photo provided by Amy Kelsay. Kelsay also provided all images for photo slideshow.

Emily Caldwell
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