ice cream

Participants in the 4-H Spark Days at UWRF participants learned about making ice cream and food engineering.

UW-River Falls helps spark interest in agriculture and animal science

UW Extension, Wisconsin 4-H, Institute of Positive Youth Development hosts events for youth to explore, discover career options

June 22, 2022 – Madelyn Stein decided to sign up for 4-H Spark Days held at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls on Monday, June 20, partially to see if an agricultural career was right for her but also for fun and camaraderie with other youth.

Stein, 14, of Stratford, was part of a workshop taught by Youngmi Kim, associate professor of agricultural engineering technology, learning the food engineering process of making ice cream.

Students used ingredients to make ice cream during the workshop.

“It was a really neat experience adding all the ingredients and waiting for the liquid to become ice cream,” Stein said. “It was fun. There is just so much to do. I wanted to see if I have an interest in or want to do anything in agricultural business.”

About 75 students in grades 7-12 attended the 4-H Spark Days sponsored by Wisconsin 4-H. The daylong event focused on programs and majors in the College of Agriculture, Food and Environmental Sciences.

Students learned about cheesemaking, sheep reproduction, animal nutrition, plant science and were able to take tours of the Campus Lab Farm and the Mann Valley Lab Farm.

Kim, who taught with Patrick Woolcock, assistant professor of agricultural engineering technology, said the goal of the workshop was to help students understand how ice cream is made on a large scale.

“I wanted them to gain an understanding of how the industry works and understand some of the key ingredients in ice cream to improve the texture, which are milk and air. It’s important that kids at a young age get exposed to different areas of engineering and activities that deal with food process engineering. They are important jobs to make sure food is processed safely. It’s critical for our society but a lesser-known engineering,” Kim said.

The ice cream was a hit given a day where temps climbed into the upper 90s.

Katie Stenroos, Douglas County 4-H program educator who helped organize the event at UWRF, said the 4-H Spark Days is a new program hosted by the Institute of Positive Youth Development, UW Extension and the Wisconsin 4-H program.

“It is about sparking their interests and what they may want to do as careers and giving them experiences,” said Stenroos, a 2017 UWRF alum in animal science and a 2018 master’s degree alum in agricultural education.

“I volunteered to do one of the days because we wanted to do a regional focus,” Stenroos said. “I know UWRF is a good school. It’s the premier school for agriculture in the state. CAFES staff were so helpful, and I want to thank them for that.”

An Urban Agriculture/City Spark Days was held June 21 at UW-Milwaukee. Students learned about urban agriculture, film, architecture, freshwater sciences and library sciences at the university.

UWRF Crop Science Professor Veronica Justen showed students fungus growing on clover using a stereo scope as well as shared equipment used to test moisture in the campus greenhouse.

“It was exciting to have middle school and high school students to come to campus and learn what programs we have,” Justen said. “I’m always excited to share about plants, how we keep them healthy and the fun careers there are in the plant sciences.”

Michelle Farner, UWRF Dairy Plant manager, had students taste different cheeses and learn about the process of making cheddar cheese during a workshop on cheesemaking. Students also were able to see milk coagulate, the start of cheese curds.

UWRF’s Dairy Plant is undergoing a $6.5 million renovation to modernize the 30-year-old plant and provide more effective teaching and training through the introduction of food products and security technology. Fundraising is continuing for the Dairy Plant.

Finn Lettau, 15, from Neenah, attended the 4-H Spark Days at UWRF at his father’s urging.

“I really enjoyed it,” Lettau said. “I learned a lot about sheep reproduction and water quality. I liked seeing the filter we used to learn about water molecules and water quality. It was fun.”



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