Alabama students can “adopt” a calf from a dairy in Pickens County and spend the upcoming school year learning about how cattle are raised on the small family farm, how milk is produced, and even how the business runs.

Adopt a Cow pairs classrooms with farms, providing students with insight into where foods like milk, ice cream, yogurt, and cheese originate, according to a news release.

(Circle J Farms/Contributed)

The program is a partnership between The Dairy Alliance, a nonprofit representing Southeastern family dairy farms, and Discover Dairy, an initiative of the Center for Dairy Excellence Foundation of Pennsylvania.

Schools have until September 15 to enroll in the program, which is free. Sign up or obtain more information online.

(Circle J Dairy, LLC/Facebook)

Alabama’s Adopt a Cow representative for the 2023-2024 school year is Circle J Dairy, which is located in the Zion community near Gordo. Co-owners Jessica Junkin Vails, her husband Tyler, and her parents, Ralph and Robin Junkin, raise a small herd of Holstein and Jersey cows, milking, pasteurizing, and bottling at the farm.

In operation since January, the dairy sells milk and other products directly at its farm store (open Wednesday and Saturday afternoons) and occasionally at farmers markets. The farm regularly posts updates on Facebook.

Circle J milk also is carried in several area groceries and markets, and the dairy supplies a growing roster of restaurants and coffee shops in Tuscaloosa and nearby.

“The Dairy Alliance is excited to partner with Circle J Dairy and Discover Dairy for this year’s Adopt a Cow program,” says Audri Crews, manager of agricultural affairs at the alliance. “It has been extremely encouraging to see a new dairy set up business in Alabama, and Jessica Vails is excited to help extend their outreach into the classroom by participating in the Adopt a Cow program.”

Last year, the program reached some 460,000 elementary and middle school students, including 34,000 in Alabama.

(Circle J Dairy, LLC/Facebook)

Enrolled classrooms are matched with a calf from the state farm, and receive photos and video updates on its growth throughout the school year. In addition to educational materials the program provides, the students can take farm tours and will engage in a live virtual chat with “Farmer Jessica” Vails.

The curriculum has been expanded this year to include material for high school students, covering topics including food science, and the impacts dairies have on the economy, environment, and community.

The Dairy Alliance represents family-owned dairy farms in Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia.

“We are proud to partner with Discover Dairy to bring important educational opportunities about agriculture and dairy farming to children in the Southeast and across America,” says Geri Berdak, chief executive officer at the alliance. “Not only does the Adopt a Cow program connect children of all backgrounds to farming, animals, and the outdoors, but it feeds children’s natural curiosity for learning.”