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Roden Barnyard Adventures brings the classroom to the farm

Jessica Sweet Published on 11 June 2015

Jacki Roden

Roden Echo Valley LLC, a 550-cow family dairy located just outside of West Bend, Wisconsin, has taken on the challenge of educating their community on just what a dairy farm consists of.

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This challenge for many may have been too large or intimidating to attempt, but with the enthusiasm and leadership of their youngest daughter, Jacki Roden, the family dairy became a classroom.

Roden, 22, graduated with a degree in agriculture marketing and communication, and she returned to her family’s dairy with an idea that would come to impact not just her family but nearly 1,000 community members in the first year of operation.

While attending a Farm Bureau conference with her brother during her sophomore year of college, Roden was inspired to help bridge the disconnect between consumers and agriculturists. With this in mind, she began to think of ways she could not only put a personal mark on the family farm but also how to invite in consumers. A year later, Roden created a business plan for Roden Barnyard Adventures LLC.

After writing the plan, Roden’s next step was to research other agritourism facilities and build her own on-farm business that would appeal to parents and children alike. She interned at a New Jersey farm in the summer of 2013, which gave her experience in running an on-farm summer camp program, leading farm tours and selling farm-fresh produce.

After spending the summer educating children there, Roden returned to Wisconsin with a clearer vision for what she wanted to do on her family’s farm. After graduating from college that fall and with the support of her family, Roden moved forward with the agritourism venture in 2014.

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“My parents have been my greatest supporters and continue to believe in me,” she says. “I would not be where I am today without my family’s support.”

Roden says she had one mission when beginning the business.

“My main mission is to educate consumers about where their food comes from, specifically in regards to dairy products, through a hands-on learning approach,” she says.

With one year now under her belt, Roden says she is both enthused and encouraged by the children’s “energy and excitement to tell their parents what they have learned.” She achieved that positive feedback by creating learning experiences that are authentic and easily understood by all ages. Her tours look at the day-to-day activity and operation of a real dairy farm.

The tour begins with the calves, and if possible the children will feed calves a bottle. After that, the tour proceeds to the feed storage area.

“We have a pit silo and harvesters where we store the feed,” Roden says. “I walk them there after the calves, and we talk about what goes in the cows in order to produce the milk. I explain the importance of a balanced diet in order to ensure wholesome and nutritious milk for us to enjoy.

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Then we talk about the compost we use as bedding and head to the freestall barn, where we see the cows eating, laying down and possibly sleeping. We end in the milking parlor where, depending on the time of the tour, visitors may see the milking process.”

The tour ends in the Barnyard Clubhouse, where tour-goers enjoy ice cream. Roden also offers a “Barnyard Buddies” area outside of the clubhouse where participants can pet and feed animals. Visitors also get the chance to milk a life-sized cow replica and ask any other questions they may have.

Besides offering tours that showcase the farm, Roden offered two camps this past summer that were either three or five days long and featured arts and crafts, relay races, real chores, scavenger hunts, making their own food and learning how to care for a calf.

One of last summer’s counselors, Rachel Priddy, raves about how the camps and tours not only taught the students teamwork and dedication but also taught them how “fun and rewarding the agriculture business can be.” Priddy says it is important to introduce children at a young age to the agriculture industry because it is opening another possible career path for them.

kids a cow

Besides educating the students, Priddy says the business has also brought pride into the small community.

“Doing this camp really made me proud of where I come from and proud of the hard work farmers do in order to produce something that is consumed so much in the everyday world,” she says.

These camps were so popular that Roden has added a third camp for the summer of 2015. There are also events throughout the year, such as a Sundae on the Farm event in summer and corn maze in the fall, as well as farm safety camps, birthday parties and the option to host meetings on site. To look more closely at the barnyard’s offerings, visit their website.

The tourism venture has been successful in the first year of business, and Roden is open and looking forward to more opportunities to grow. No matter what, she hopes to continue expanding offerings of tours and camps and provide a unique experience to each person who visits the farm.

Roden Barnyard Adventure has created a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for many children who would otherwise never have made contact with the agriculture community. This type of experience is something that can only increase understanding and love of the agriculture industry. PD

Jessica Sweet is a student at California State University – Fresno, pursuing a degree in agriculture education.

Jacki Roden can be reached by email or by calling (262) 689-7521.

PHOTOS
TOP: Jacki Roden’s farm tours begin in the calf barn, where children can feed calves a bottle.

BOTTOM: Jacki Roden helps a farm visitor milk a cow.Photos courtesy of Jacki Roden.

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