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University Farms works through winter weather together

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CARBONDALE (WSIL) -- Bitter cold and snow is responsible for hundreds of closings in the region this week, but students in the University Farms program at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, haven't had a break.

More than 200 animals rely on those students to care for them and keep them safe, a responsibility which keeps a small team of students from having a "Snow Day," just yet.

Garrett Hartke, a Senior at SIU enrolled in the Crop, Soil & Environmental Management program says they work in shifts, around the clock.

"If it was just me plowing the snow, or one of the other guys, we wouldn't have got it done," says Hartke. "We had to work as a team and if it wasn't for everybody here just busting our butts to make sure everything was open up, and everybody could get out there, it wouldn't have been possible."

Hartke is one of a handful taking turns plowing snow and shuttling team-members to the farm; real-world experience for future farming professionals enrolled at SIU.

"We plowed some places three, four or five times," says Hartke.

He described a scene played out across the region as road crews raced to keep up with snow drifts and new snow.

"We kept Union Hill and Pleasant Hill open all the way to Mclafferty," says Hartke. "So we can get everybody here to the centers to get the animals taken care of."

The hands-on experience students are working through this week is preparation that Program Director Chris Vick says, can't be found in a classroom.

"With the sub-zero temperatures and wind chill, we had to check the animals every three to four hours," explains Vick, adding that keeping water thawed is a challenge in these conditions.

The results of this "cold classroom" is a display of responsibility, dedication and teamwork the program director says is commendable.

"One person is not getting us through this," says Vick. "Without the students and center managers working together, we would not have been successful and we would have had animals lost to the storm."

As winter weather moved in and schools, churches, clinics and businesses closed throughout the region, the storm just meant colder "classes" for these students, says SIU Senior Jon Yaklich.

"Although the college closes and the administrative closes, we're still liable to come out here and feed the cattle, check hogs all throughout the night," Yaklich says, adding that as difficult as it is, the team cracks jokes to push through the cold.

"I'm ready for it to be back to sweatshirts and jeans' kind of weather," Yaklich says with grin.

The program director says once night-time temperatures return to above freezing, his Snow Dawgs can finally have a "Snow Day."

Joe Rehana

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