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Farm Camp offers hands-on agriculture

By Janet Kubat Willette

Date Modified: 08/30/2013 1:03 PM

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WASECA, Minn. — The shiny John Deere 8285R pulled up to the edge of the buffer and a child carefully climbed out, assisted by a waiting volunteer.

Another child scampered over to the tractor's ladder, climbed up to the tractor cab and plopped down in the buddy seat next to Jon Halloran, from AgPower in Belle Plaine.

The volunteer on the ground shut the cab door and backed away. Halloran was off on a well-traveled circular course adjacent to the main parking area at Farmamerica.

In one minute, 34 seconds, Halloran was back and the process repeated.

A second tractor also gave rides to children attending the second annual Farm Camp. The tractors went round and round the track until every student had a ride.

Farm Camp was held Aug. 12-13 at Minnesota's Agricultural Interpretive Center near Waseca.

The event was started last year by people who wanted to put on a farm camp for children that focused on modern agriculture, said Kathy Guse, of Janesville, event coordinator.

About 100 people attended last year's one-day event. Attendance tripled to 300 this year and a second day was added, Guse said.

Farm Camp is targeted to city kids and kids who want to learn more about agriculture.

Attendees included school-age child care programs, individuals, home-school groups and Boy Scout troops, said volunteer Andrea Hildebrandt. The camp is open to youth in grades three through six.

Sixth graders Alexis Linde and Trista Hering, both of Waterville, came to learn more about farming. They are members of the Le Center Farmers Friends 4-H Club.

At the corn station, the duo stuck their hands into a corn starch and water mixture as group leader Cara Soper talked about products made from corn and how they could do the corn starch and water project at home.

Hering said she enjoyed riding in the tractor and seeing the animals.

Linde said they learned about different hog breeds at the pork station.

Sarah Marketon, 2012 Pork Ambassador, held up a poster showing the breeds. The children sat in chairs on three sides of a pen of sleeping pigs.

The children delighted in simply observing the pig's behavior. They watched while a startled piglet went to root in another area of the pen before laying back down.

One child asked Marketon why pigs root. Soon, another pig woke up and came to lay by the first. The third pig came over and wiggled in between the other two.

Marketon answered all their questions and quizzed them. How many times per year does a sow have pigs? What are footballs made from? One observant participant asked about the bumps on the pig's belly. Another wanted to know why their tails weren't curled yet.

In the Farmamerica Visitor Center, Morristown turkey farmer Kim Halvorson gave the children a turkey barn tour via video. She told them Minnesota is the leading state in turkey production and said they raise turkeys all year on their farm. They raise toms and had turkeys ranging in age from four weeks to 19 weeks on their farm.

She led them in a project where they could learn another language, talking turkey, before letting each person who wanted touch or hold a turkey.

At the soybean stop, students delighted in stepping into the field, with chaperones telling them not to go too far into the field.

Students passed around a soybean plant, commenting that it was fuzzy.

At the beef stop, they sniffed and touched corn silage, haylage, corn and dry hay. It's sweet smelling, some said.

Lori Beckel and Lynn Nelson told the children that cows have four stomachs, chew their cud 44,000 times per day and drink a bath tub full of water every day. Cows can smell a scent from six miles away and they get up and down 14 times per day.

The children wanted to know how long it would take the beef calf in the pen nearby to be as big as its mother.

Each station included educational time and hands-on learning time, Guse said.

Farm Camp has the support of all the commodity groups and a lot of volunteers. Guse said it takes close to 60 volunteers per day to staff the camp. Volunteers ranged from FFA members to retirees.