Farmers Union Camp educates, unites kids around farming

KIMBALL--While a group of children stand in line, waiting for snacks in between activities at Farmers Union Camp in Kimball, Rachel Blume asks which farm crops were used to produce each food item they were given.

KIMBALL-While a group of children stand in line, waiting for snacks in between activities at Farmers Union Camp in Kimball, Rachel Blume asks which farm crops were used to produce each food item they were given.

"Wheat," the kids shout after receiving a cookie. This is one of many exercises that Blume uses to educate kids on the importance of farming and agriculture in South Dakota. The camp is held by South Dakota Farmers Union, which takes place throughout the summer and rotates to different counties.

"Most people are now three or four times removed from the farm, so more and more people don't know where their food comes from," said Blume, the South Dakota Farmers Union education director. "This year's theme is food and farming, which helps educate kids on where their food comes from."

Each kid in attendance at the camp is given a Farmers Union fact sheet, which includes six facts broken down for them to understand. The first page of the fact sheet dives right in to explaining the importance of farmers, as it reads "a farmer grew the ink on this page from soy and vegetable oil."

South Dakota Farmers Union hosts 45 day camps and four overnight camps each year during the summer, and kids ages 5 to 13 are eligible to participate. On June 27 in Brule County, 33 kids were in attendance at the camp, and each county that hosts the camp is able to customize the type of activities that will take place.


"We do a lot of cooperative games like group activities and crossword puzzles that engage kids together, helping them understand the importance of farming and cooperatives in their community," she said.

South Dakota Farmers Union began February 16, 1914, in Mitchell, as the first county chartered was Davison County. Cooperatives were created to help farmers buy and sell things collectively, along with pooling resources for better production outcomes on farms for those who participated in co-ops. Cenex and Land O' Lakes are just two examples of farmer-owned co-ops.

Blume said cooperatives are essential for the future of farming and have impacted South Dakota farmers since starting in the early 1900's.

"In 1915 it cost South Dakota hog farmers $25 to ship hogs while it cost Iowa $16.50 for the same shipping distance, so South Dakota farmers made a co-op to get their hogs shipped at the same cost as Iowa hog farmers," Blume said. "That's one of many examples of how cooperatives have helped farming in our state and nationwide."

The decline in profit margins for farmers is still a serious challenge today, as Blume said the profit farmers are making is at the lowest level since 1933.

CHS Farmers Alliance helps fund cooperative education and gives a large grant to five Farmers Union states, helping raise awareness for the importance of agriculture and farming in South Dakota and worldwide.

Blume said the CHS grant helps pay for roughly a third of the camp's budget. Other organizations that support the Farmers Union Camp include Agtegra, FFA and Cenex.

At Farmers Union Camp, Blume emphasizes the seven cooperative principles with the help of summer interns, allowing them to coordinate fun activities that engage kids to work together. "Education, training, and information" is one of the seven principles that Farmers Union camp aims to achieve at youth age levels.


Breanna Vogel, a senior agriculture education major at SDSU, is one of the interns tasked with coordinating camp activities, which she said is helping her gain experience in educating kids about the farming industry.

"We hope that kids from cities and towns come to events like Farmers Union Camp, as we hope to expose them to the importance of agriculture," Vogel said. "Some kids legitimately think that chocolate milk comes from brown cows, so teaching kids about where their food comes from is one of my goals with Farmers Union Camp."

Vogel said it's alarming that fewer and fewer kids are involved with agriculture, as most kids in urban areas are five to six generations removed from a farm, a statistic Vogel is working tirelessly to change through educating kids at Farmers Union Camp.

The Farmers Union fact sheet backs Vogel's concern of the decrease in farmers at the youth age group, as fact No. 6 reads "about 97 percent of U.S. farms are operated by individuals or families." This figure leaves uncertainty as to who will be running farms in the future.

"I ask the kids at camp, name one thing that a farmer doesn't have an impact on something you use every day? And they almost always can't name one thing," Vogel said. "So many daily necessities are made from crops, such as tires, clothing and food, to name just a few."

Although Vogel didn't grow up on a farm, she was always interested in agriculture and hopes to inspire more kids that are not familiar with farming.

"There are a lot misconceptions and stereotypes toward farming, and I want to change that," Vogel said. "I want to be an advocate for the hard-working farmers and rural communities that depend on agriculture. It's very humbling to be a part of this."

Related Topics: AGRICULTURE
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