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Family Farm Fun Day udderly terrific

July 06, 2004|by JEFF SEMLER/Extension educator

Last week was one of my favorite weeks of the summer.

No, it wasn't my family vacation nor was it the Ag Expo, while they rate one and two on my list, respectively. It was Farm Fun Day Camp.

It is hard to believe that a program hatched by a cadre of volunteers and extension professionals has been going strong this long.

It is one of my favorites because it combines two of my passions - working with youngsters and introducing people to agriculture.

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Where does milk come from? Are tomatoes fruits or vegetables? What is the difference between hay and straw?

These are but some of the questions asked and answered last week during Farm Fun Day Camp held at the Washington County Agricultural Education Center.

More than 65 campers, counselors, and a few parents spent six hours each day learning about agriculture.

The objective of the program is to begin a thought process of agricultural awareness. It is not believed that all the information presented last week will be remembered for a lifetime, but that the children will start to realize there a lot of steps in the food supply chain before the grocery store.

It is important to remember at the turn of the last century nearly 50 percent of the work force was involved in production agriculture and even more was growing at least a portion of their family's food resources.

Today, most Washington County residents are at least one generation from the farm. And not many plant even a "kitchen garden." They harvest the aisles of the nearby supermarket instead.

So in addition to answering the question "Do cows bite?", we are attempting to bridge the farm dinner table gap.

You are probably wondering what these youngsters learned last week.

The camp was split into two groups. One group is 7- and 8-year- olds and the other group is the 9, 10- and 11-year-olds. Each group participates in age-appropriate learning activities, and the emphasis is on activities.

We strive to make each learning experience fun and interactive.

Several learning stations explored how animals turn grass into meat and milk, the types of crops that are grown in the county, and about the machinery needed to plant and harvest such crops.

The milking parlor station told the story of how the milk gets from the cow to the breakfast table, reminding everyone that the cows must be milked at least twice a day every day of the year. The cows don't take holidays and neither do those who care for them.

The story of milk begins with the feeding and caring of the cows and their calves and ends in the milking parlor. Each milking, the cows are prepared for milking by first cleaning their teats and udders and then protecting the teats after milking.

The youngsters learned that these sanitary procedures are as important for the cow's health as sanitation in your home is for your own health.

A highlight for the children was when the milker was automatically removed and they were splashed by milk.

Another day dealt with health and nutrition. Even though carrots may grow in the dirt (soil), they are full of vitamins and minerals.

Additionally, the different food groups and the need for a balanced diet were reinforced. Did you know that the human tongue has 9,000 taste buds?

The farm animal day is always a hit. The kids learned that it takes 21 days for chicks to grow and hatch out of the egg and that baby goats are called kids as well.

They learned that wool and lamb chops both come from sheep and that baby lambs are softer than their wool carpet at home.

Each got an opportunity to help shear a sheep. I wasn't sure if they would like the shearing, but based on the pockets full of wool that went home, I think it was a hit.

The youngsters learned that the Number One dairy animal in the world is the goat and not a Holstein cow. They even got the chance to milk a goat by hand.

Later that day they made ice cream in a bag. Yes, in a bag. You might say it was hand-made ice cream.

While this just scratches the surface of what the campers learned, you can see they had a fun, fact-filled week.

We hope they will all remember at least one fact they learned each day, even if it is only that a cow has a four-compartment stomach.

I hope you learned something, too. When you have your next meal, thank a farmer.

Jeff Semler is an Extension educator, specializing in 4-H youth development as well as agriculture and natural resources, for the University of Maryland Cooperative Extension. He is based in Washington County. He can be reached weekdays by telephone at 301-791-1404, ext. 25, or by e-mail at jsemler@umd.edu

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