LORETTO - A group of excited students from Wright Elementary School in Altoona pulled up to Vale Wood Farms' dairy barn in a bright yellow school bus in early May, hopped down the vehicle's large steps and pointed with glee at the week-old calf waiting to greet them.
A discussion in front of the little cow was the first of many stops around the large farm property to teach the students about the process of going from Moo to You or from the cow to a milk container or ice cream carton.
The farm's Moo to You program is something Vale Wood Farms offers to showcase every step of the milk story at their farm.
"We learn as much from them as they do from us," Jan Itle, herd manager at the farm, said after showing the first-graders how to milk a cow inside the large milking parlor.
There, big questions were asked by the little students, like whether or not chocolate milk comes from the brown Jersey cows. He also taught the students about the time it takes to milk the more than 200 cows - about three hours twice a day - as well as the importance of keeping bacteria away and keeping the milk cool and fresh.
"The milk that was picked up this morning goes up the road and can be processed and can be on the milk truck tomorrow morning," Itle said as the youngsters intently watched her every move. "That's why our milk tastes so good."
The farm workers do a first milking from about 3:30 to 6:30 a.m. and finish up the second milking at 7:30 p.m.
Itle's sister Dee, who was helping out the day of the tour, explained the feed given to the animals, which only have bottom teeth and require up to 50 gallons of water a day and huge amounts of home-grown food.
"Mostly everything we feed our cows is grown in our fields," Dee said, explaining why the countryside smelled of manure that day as the students squished up their noses.
Teacher's aide Dawn Bawa said the students had been looking forward to the trip and studying the process in their classes.
"A lot of these guys are just city kids," Bawa said, adding that many of them had never been to a farm before.
The students also toured the dairy plant, passing by huge stainless steel machines making cottage cheese and large conveyors unfolding and filling up cartons of milk.
The tour ended with the students learning how to make ice cream at home, using sandwich bags filled with milk, sugar, flavoring and ice before the students each got an ice cream cone to enjoy.
Riley McGeary, 6, said she was excited to make homemade ice cream and that the games at the end of the day were a lot of fun.
"I liked playing all the cow activities," she said, ice cream cone in hand.
Noah Riggleman, 7, had never been to a farm before. He said he learned that cows have one udder and that bees make all types of honey and that he would share stories from his trip with friends and family.
His favorite part?
"Getting the ice cream," he said with a sticky smile.
Vale Wood Farms hosted more than 2,000 area students in three weeks' worth of two-hour tours.
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Mirror Staff Writer Wendy Zook is at 946-7520.