By Scott Scanlon – Refresh Editor
Imagine going to school for four years at Catholic University in Washington, D.C. to get your bachelor’s degree in music performance and coming back home to get a master’s degree in library science at the University at Buffalo – then getting your first job because you worked summers during college at the Erie County Fair.
That’s what happened to Laura Woloszyn, and she’s enjoying every minute of it.
Woloszyn is an agricultural educator with the Erie County Agricultural Society, which runs the fair.
She's worked summers at the fair for the last eight years, mostly as part-timer, and now that she’s full-time, she’s had to be flexible in her job, which will change again this year because the society has big plans to celebrate the 175th anniversary of the fair.
Woloszyn – a Springville native who turns 27 today and is the subject of this week’s “In the field” feature in WNY Refresh – lives on a dairy farm in Delevan with her husband, James, their daughter, 2-year-old Anastasia, and her husband’s family. The couple own 25 head of dairy cattle and hope to start their own farm someday. Anastasia, too.
“She can tell the difference between goats and sheep,” her mother told me. “We’re starting to work on breeds of cows now. And she can tell me, ‘No, Mama, that’s the skid loader, that’s not the tractor.’ I asked her what she wanted for Christmas and she said, ‘A cow.’ Her daddy said, ‘We can do that,’ and I said, ‘No we can’t. We already blew our cow budget for the year, thank you very much.’”
By the end of the school year, Woloszyn will have reached out to about 8,000 Erie County grade school students as leader of the Farm 2 Table education series.
How did the idea get off the ground?
“It started in 2010,” Woloszyn said. “The board of directors wanted to do a field trip to the fairgrounds and I was working part-time at the time and Jessica Underberg, my boss, said, ‘The board wants to do a field trip to the fairgrounds. Figure it out. Whatever age group you think, come up with a program.’ We did that for the first time in October 2010 for that academic year and two more academic years.”
The field trips stopped at the end of last school year because the site they visited, the Ag-Sperience Center, was knocked down during the summer to make way for a major upgrade: a new Agricultural Discovery Center.
The field trips were so successful that the society decided to take its lessons “on the go,” Woloszyn said, leading to the Farm 2 Table program.
“It’s gone very well,” she said. “Teachers have been very happy.”
It’s unclear exactly how things will change next school year, but there will be a lot more activity at the fairgrounds come fall.
Woloszyn said the new 60,000-square-foot Discovery Center will be kid-friendly.
“During the fair, we’re going to have the cows giving birth, sow and piglets,” she said. “We’ll do ag-tivities, which are kids’ crafts that are free and agriculture-based. We’re expanding our milking parlor and we’re planning a combine simulator, a real combine that the kids can walk up and get in and see what it’s like to be in the field harvesting. We’re also having a robotic milker. The plan is to have programming in there year round.
“We realize how important agriculture education is to this area,” Woloszyn said. “Only 2 percent of Americans now are involved in agriculture. It’s amazing how little people know where their food comes from and we’re trying to fill in the gap. When I first met my husband, I didn’t really know about production in agriculture so I like to be able to teach people the little things they may not understand.”