How the Dairy Farmers of Ontario turned disruptions into learning opportunities

Building farms in Minecraft and online recipe videos have helped the group maintain its educational goals.


With the cancellation of the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair this year, virtual learning becoming something of a slog for students and home eating habits changing drastically this year, the Dairy Farmers of Ontario have had to make a lot of pivots for some long-held public and student education programs.

One of those is trying to make sitting through school at home a bit more engaging for students, turning Minecraft map into an interactive education platform, using virtual dairy farms to teach students.

Created in conjunction with No Fixed Address, “Dairycraft” is an immersive online learning resource designed to bring core concepts from the Ontario elementary school curriculum to life. For example, one lesson plan enables students to examine the different structures on a dairy farm, how they’re designed and built and how the farmer uses them to produce dairy, aligning with the grade 1 science and technology curriculum.

Dairycraft builds off DFO’s Dairy Education Program – a free service to teachers that provides them with in-class workshops connected to elements of the province’s curriculum. According to Sabrina Babooram, director of community partnerships at the Dairy Farmers of Ontario, the COVID-19 pandemic drastically altered the educational experience, with not as many students doing in-school learning, it forced DFO to do something different, “something interesting.”

“What we decided to do is take some of the principles that we always apply to education – curriculum-based, experiential learning – and couple that with something that is unique to our times,” Babooram says. It’s well documented how students not just in Ontario, but across Canada, have struggled with stress, anxiety and apathy toward virtual learning during the pandemic – especially since much of it is taking the same form, and Babooram says adapting the education program to a video game that excites students is meant to break through that.

DFO has seen quite a few new learning opportunities within the disruptions brought on by the pandemic. With 92% of Canadians now eating breakfast in the morning as part of a push to eat healthier, DFO teamed up with the Breakfast Better Board – a group of accredited dietary and nutritional experts – on a campaign that showed how the protein in dairy could set up the foundation for the day. They did this through a series of online videos with chefs and nutritionists, as well as appearances during segments on morning shows, with recipes that went beyond simply pouring milk on cereal and showing how they could fit in the new daily routines people had established.

The campaign was created by McCann Health, with NFA handling media and PR. Launched in October and running until mid-December, but so far, the campaign reached nearly 1.5 million people through broadcast segments, 1.2 million people reached from paid social posts promoting the videos and a higher than average completion rate for the videos posted on the YouTube, with views ranging from 150,000 to 500,000.

Interactive learning is something the DFO has typically done at the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair – Babooram says if there was no pandemic, DFO’s marketing plans would’ve likely entailed, among other things, live cooking classes as well as chats and panels around nutrition.

“We have a lot of integrity in that [education] program,” Babooram says. “We make sure that it’s compliant with the Ontario curriculum. This really, for us, is just about educating students on some of the interesting elements of dairy, so that our kids understand where their food comes from and that they understand all the facts so that we become a choice within their diet.”