Waconia High School

As students gathered for their tour of Tim and Amy Leonard’s dairy farm just outside Waconia, their teacher, Clark Machtemes, took a big whiff and said, “Smells like money to me.”

One of the students mumbled, “More like, it smells, period.”

Welcome to the Minnesota Heritage and Culture class at Waconia High School. Machtemes has been teaching the class for about 15 years. On Monday, about 20 students received a hands-on lesson at the farm.

“This is a capstone class for juniors and seniors,” Machtemes explained. “They put their whole social studies experience together, and they get to put all their ideas together.”

Merit Ohlsen, an exchange student from Germany, said, “Normally, we don’t have this. You come here and it’s interesting for me because now I know where it comes from and how it all happens.”

The farm has been in Amy’s family since 1871 and this is the fifth generation from Amy’s side of the family on the farm. They milk 44 Holstein cows and have about 100 head of dairy animals on the farm. They produce about 3,650 pounds of milk per day (bulk milk is measured in pounds). Amy explained to the group that they feed the cows a “hot dish” of sorts as they have to mix their feed. One cow will eat up to 100 pounds of feed and drink 55 gallons of water per day.

“I want them to leave with an appreciation for where their food comes from,” Amy Leonard stated. “It just doesn’t come from the grocery store. Somebody is producing that, and the farmer works hard. They work hard to provide a wholesome product.”

Milk from the Leonard dairy farm is sold to Bongards Creamery. By the time the students arrived, most of the morning milking had been completed, minus a couple cows that were left for the students to milk. A few hands went up when Amy asked for volunteers.

“A lot of what we learn in this class is stuff that you haven’t really thought about. Then, when we’re being taught, you’re like, oh yeah, this makes so much sense now,” Julia Christensen, senior, said.

Madison Voigt, senior, agreed and added, “This class gives me a lot of information that I never would have learned otherwise.”

Machtemes believes he is the only teacher in the state offering such a class at the high school level. All elementary students have a Minnesota history class but, to his knowledge, it doesn’t go beyond that in other districts.

“I am getting schools from all over contacting me to ask about this particular class,” Machtemes added. “It’s one thing to teach the class but you also have to have access to places like this. We’re really lucky that we have all these people who want to help us out and support our kids.”

Machtemes teaches the class throughout the school year, with two sections in the fall and spring and one section in the winter. The field trips are driven by the time of year.

“For instance, in the spring we do maple syrup,” Machtemes said.

He also takes students to an apple orchard. “That’s really fun for the kids because they get into the science behind making different varieties of apples. My hope is that they get more of a sense of who we are as Minnesotans, our culture, and our history. Seeing it live brings it all home for them.”  

As they packed up to head back to school, Machtemes told students to take a good look at the barns on the property as they’ll be talking about the types of barns that can be found in Carver County and the differences between a German barn and a Swedish-style barn.

Considering the popularity of the class, Machtemes is looking at developing an honors humanities class that would merge art, social studies, and food curriculums.