The last two days have been really exciting ones for our students. Yesterday, Crystal, from a local farm visited with our students. Today, Jessica, a volunteer farmer at an animal sanctuary just down the street from our school stopped in to chat with our students.
Our fourth-graders, who are reading Charlotte's Web, have been wondering how farm animals should be treated. This question first came up the day that Wilbur escaped. Wilbur, a pig, encouraged by the goose, escaped his pen and had an adventure in the pasture. While out on the lam, Wilbur did everything that came natural to him. He rooted, he smelled, he ran, and he explored. It was a glorious adventure. This got my students thinking...shouldn't Wilbur be allowed to live like this every day? What kind of life was he living all cooped up in a barn with only a small pen to visit where he could "enjoy" the great outdoors? Our students have launched an inquiry. Some already have strong opinions about the treatment of farm animals. Others are just beginning to form their opinions.
Each student will focus in on one type of farm animal. They'll do some research to find out what this specific animal requires in order to thrive. But yesterday and today students had the opportunity to interview an expert. First they brainstormed and refined their questions so that they would have the best possible chance to get the information they desired. In the end, these were the students' questions:
1. Do your animals spend time outside? Can you tell us about their outside space?
2. Do your animals spend time in pens? How do they behave in their pens?
3. Can you tell us about your farm animals diets? Can you describe how they are fed?
4. Which animals do you have at your farm? How do you ensure all their different needs are met?
5. How many times do the animals get fed daily?
6. Do you believe that farm animals should be killed? If so, can you describe how you work to keep it stress free for the animal?
7. Are baby animals kept together? Do they get to stay with their mom? For how long?
8. If an animal who has died a natural death be used for food?
9. How does your farm care for sick or pregnant animals?
10. What are some of the daily chores involved with caring for the animals on your farm?
11. How do you handle misbehaving or uncooperative animals?
Crystal and her family members run a local farm that provides beef, pork, lamb, eggs and some produce. Customers love their products because they know that they don't inject their animals with hormones and they know that the animals are well cared for and have enjoyed a happy life on the farm, roaming the pastures and socializing with other animals. Crystal clearly loves her animals and is dedicated to their well-being. When an animal is feeling under the weather, Crystal brings that animal into her KITCHEN to recoup. That is love! In the end, the animals at Crystal's farm are trucked off to a processor who does the slaughtering in a humane way. The below picture is of six happy little pigs from Crystal's farm. Life is good for them!
Today, the students met Jessica. She is a tour guide and volunteer at a sanctuary farm in our town. She also adheres to a vegan diet. The animals at the sanctuary are well cared for. They receive food, shelter and medical care as needed through donations and through the good work of volunteers. The 100 or so animals at the sanctuary will live out their days in peace there. When they cross the rainbow bridge, they will be buried on the sanctuary grounds.
This little pig lives a peaceful life at the sanctuary farm. His name is Johnathan and he weighs approximately 800 pounds! Life is good for him!
At the end of the day, our students, even the ones who went into these two days with strong opinions, were thoughtful. As Jessica took her final questions, one of my students raised his hand and said, "I enjoy eating meat and even after today, I plan to continue eating meat. However, I hear what you are saying and I really do understand why some people choose to not eat animals. I get it."
So while our project really is about farm animals and their treatment these two amazing community members taught our students more than we hoped. Our experts inspired empathy. This was a wonderful experience for our students and it was a pretty great experience for me too!