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Third-grade students from Hamilton Early Learning Center started this week with fresh air and fresh produce.

The students visited Deep Roots Community Farm, where they learned about native plants, pollinators and planted seeds on Monday. They also got an up-close view of the farm’s animals, which include chickens, pigs and horses.

“I really like everything,” Aowynn Hatcher, 8, said after seeing all the farm animals, especially the young pigs. “Because they are so cute and small.”

The farm trip was underwritten by a grant from the La Crosse Public Education Foundation, which gave $1,264 to Grow La Crosse, a non-profit with a focus on connecting kids with healthy eating and the natural world. Along with the third grade visit Monday, other grade levels at Hamilton will be visiting the farm throughout the week.

Ana and Andrew Skemp own and operate Deep Roots Community Farm, which raises grass-fed beef and organic produce on 160 acres about 10 miles from La Crosse. Along with the farm operation, Skemp is a program director for Grow La Crosse, which employs eight employees and several volunteers to host field trips and day camps on the farm.

As part of the programming, Ana Skemp gave the Hamilton students a tour of the farm. The students’ first stop was the garden, with a detour along the way to highlight some native and non-native plants that grow on the farm. Students learned about the cup plant, which stores rainwater for wildlife including insects and birds, and stinging nettle, a plant that makes a healthy tea when steeped and is a host for butterfly eggs and larvae.

In the one-acre garden, students learned about cabbage, squash and Brussels sprouts. The students got to try fieldwork, sowing spinach seeds for the fall harvest in a recently upturned furrow in the garden. Many of the students in the class said they liked eating spinach and shared their favorite veggies such as carrots or rutabagas.

But the favorite for most of the kids during the field trip was visiting the animals, starting with the pigs.

The two female pigs on the Skemp farm recently had their litters, and with the piglets still small enough to duck under the fence, they were out exploring Monday morning before the students came to check out the pig pens.

While the mother ate some corn and the piglets came running and squealing back to nurse, Ana Skemp told the students about how she and her husband raise a heritage breed on the farm, how pigs eat almost anything, and why pigs roll around in the mud to cool down. Many of the kids loved the strange stripes and spots on the pigs or the funny noises they made.

“The baby pigs are so cute,” Autumn Mueller, 8, said after her class checked out the pig pen. “Because they snort.”

After the pigs, it was on to the chickens. Some of the students fed them corn. There was also a station where students got to try smoothies made with fresh kale and fruit, and each student also received a bag of kale to take home.

More than 1,000 kids have participated in field trips and day camps this summer. It’s good to get them out of the classroom, Ana Skemp said, and show them how the natural world works.

“It gives them some free time in a rural setting,” she said. “A place where they can just be kids and not be rushed along.”

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Nathan Hansen has been the Education Reporter for the Tribune since 2014. Prior to that, he covered education, agriculture and business topics for the Winona Daily News. He is always on the lookout for news tips and can be contacted at 608-791-8234.

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