Most of the students involved in University of Vermont’s Cooperative for Real Education in Agricultural Management (CREAM) program are animal science majors. Then there’s Olivia Wolfe, a 20-year-old junior from Virginia, who is studying physical therapy. So why would she get involved in a program that requires students to get up at 3 am at least one morning a week, dash down to the barn at any hour to see their assigned calf being born, and do all the barn chores including the ones that make their roommates plug their noses?
“I just like cows,” Olivia says simply.
Olivia has actually worked back home on a small diversified farm with one milking Jersey and Mo Whitney, 19, a sophomore from New Braintree, Massachusetts milked cows on a neighbor’s dairy farm last summer and has shown cows for 10 years. But most of the 13 to 16 students enrolled in CREAM each year have not experienced the rhythm of a working dairy farm firsthand until they are selected for the competitive program.Balancing college coursework and farm chores can be challenging -- but these students are committed. @uvmasci #CREAM #FarmLove Click To Tweet
The students run the dairy herd, which has about 38 milking animals, under the supervision of Professor Norman Purdie and herd manager, Matt Bodette, who grew up on his family’s dairy farm in Addison, Vermont. The time commitment is significant: for the whole year in which they are in the program, students have class two mornings a week, student-run meetings two evenings a week and eight to nine other specific weekly responsibilities including milking, chores and animal checks. “It’s like a part-time job,” Olivia says. The students don’t get paid but they do earn credit and CREAM is so highly regarded that several of the current students say they came to University of Vermont because of it.
As 4 pm approached on a recent afternoon, Sam Driscoll, a 20-year-old junior from Bristol, Vermont, and Ashley Heaney, also 20 and a junior from Northfield, Vermont, started pre-milking chores. Not only are students responsible for twice-daily milkings (including ensuring that Cabot quality standards are met) and chores, they are involved in veterinary care, nutrition, breeding and the business side of the things, too. Although the herd is a teaching program, ideally it would break even. The students know the challenge of fluctuating milk prices and analyze costs the same way full-time farmers do.
“These kids work so hard and they really care about the cows,” Matt says. “Their dedication always impresses me. I marvel that college students want to come down here and work this hard for no money. They keep me on my toes all the time, too. The students are the second best part of the program,” he jokes. “The cows are the first.”
Benefits are numerous for the students including the fun one of getting to name their calves. A recent tour included a calf named Lindor (after the truffles) and another named Harry Potter. They proudly explain the various technical aspects of the new barn that was recently built to high environmental and cow comfort standards with walls that inflate and deflate depending on the weather to keep the temperature warm or cool.
Students are also happy to detail the knowledge and skills they have gained and it’s obvious those go beyond a potential future career working with animals. “The first time you come in and there’s this giant cow you have to convince to milk, it’s a bit challenging,” says Morgan Schiksnis, a 19-year-old junior from Flanders, New Jersey, “but then you learn each of their personalities and realize that they’re quite gentle.”
“I think we learn a lot about dedication and hard work,” says Sarah Scott, a 21-year-old senior from Morrisville, Pennsylvania, “like dropping everything to come calf or to help a sick animal.”
The CREAM students also help spread the word about dairy and farming, explains Emily Brink, 20, a junior from Milton, Massachusetts. “We take tour groups through the barn and bring calves on campus.”
“It’s really shocking how many people just go to the store and buy milk and don’t really think about how much work goes into it,” adds Morgan.
And what do their parents think? “My mom loves it,” says Emily. “She grew up on a farm in Pennsylvania and she’s jealous.”
Open Farm Sunday:
The CREAM program is one of the host farms for Open Farm Sunday on October 9th from 11-2pm. For address and full list of participating farms, visit:https://www.openfarmsunday.coop
The co-op includes several other teaching herds among its members. Check out:
Many college students don’t tend to do a ton of cooking for themselves but as they move off campus, some do need to feed themselves. The CREAMers (as they call themselves) are fond of this easy lighter version of Pimento Cheese, which, reports Mo Whitney, someone will whip up for one of their weeknight meetings and they’ll pass it around with crackers. [Mom also notes that it’d be great with carrot or celery sticks : ).]
Here are a couple other easy recipes that are great for young people learning to feed themselves:
Deceptively elegant but so simple, this one-dish Spinach, Cheese and Ham Cannelloni will feed your friends or even impress your date.
This hearty Eggplant and Chickpea Stew will please both vegetarians and omnivores and the recipe has a cool twist in that it is the base for two different meal.
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Melissa Pasanen is an award-winning Vermont-based journalist and cookbook author with a focus on food, farming and sustainability. She was the writer for The Cabot Creamery Cookbook (Oxmoor House, 2015).