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Appreciating agriculture and conservation

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STATION MIGRATION: Students move from one station to another Thursday during the second day of the Farm Education Conservation Camp for Clinton County fourth-graders.
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FAIR OAKS FARMS: Students eagerly wait their turn to enter Fair Oaks Farms’ mobile dairy classroom on Thursday at Camp Cullom.

By AARON KENNEDY - akennedy@ftimes.com

Fourth-graders from each of the four Clinton County school corporations came to Camp Cullom on Wednesday and Thursday to experience the annual Farm Education Conservation Camp.

Sponsored by the Clinton County Soil and Water Conservation District as well as Farm Bureau, the annual camp was created to educate Clinton County fourth-graders on the importance of Indiana’s agricultural industry and natural resource conservation.

Students who attended the camp rotated from station to station throughout the day and enjoyed a lunch in between.

“This is the 21st year for the event,” said Leah Harden, district administrator for the CCSWCD. “Probably the most important thing is that they learn about where their food and the fiber comes from and the importance of all of the things associated with agriculture – affordable food supplies and knowing what the source of that is and understating how agriculture affects the economy.

“And the natural resource part of things come into play,” Harden continued. “Without healthy soil, we can’t provide that food. Then just being good stewards of the land. We have to understand how intrusion of the land affects wildlife. They learn how those are interconnected.”

Stations this year included swine production, the Fair Oaks Farms mobile dairy exhibit, grain production, soils, forestry, watersheds and water quality, extracting plant DNA, pollination and beekeeping, Indiana wildlife/animal adaptations and a presentation on birds of prey.

“Typically, our stations chance from year to year,” Harden said. “Some are pretty standard. The speakers may change but the topics remain.

“(The students) like the water quality station because they are collecting living creatures and learning about how they are biological indicator of water quality,” she added. “They almost always like the live animals that they can touch or feel or learn about. They also like the soils presentation because of the hands-on aspect of it and the enthusiastic speakers who present the programs. And the cows, pigs and dairy cow and calves are always popular.”

Among the students’ favorite stations was the Birds of Prey presentation by Mark Loring Booth, executive director of Take Flight! Wildlife Education.

“That is a favorite,” Harden agreed. “They love the birds of prey, and (Booth) is very engaging and entertaining. He does speak about the plight of some of our birds of prey because of loss of habitat, use of chemicals that are now banned and those types of things. He has been doing it for us for maybe the last eight or 10 years.”

Booth taught the students about the red-tailed hawk, kestrel and barred owl he brought with him to Camp Cullom.

“Some children would never have the chance to see what they here,” Harden said. “There are a lot of things incorporated into the day that some children, because of their circumstance, may not ever get to experience. We are able to bring that into one location so they can experience it locally. We give them that opportunity at no cost to them. All of the schools in Clinton County participated this year. So, we had more than 500 students in attendance, and we are pretty happy about that.”

This was the first camp for Adam Shanks, an educator at Purdue Extension of Clinton County.

“I thought it was very professionally put together and very informative for the kids,” Shanks said. “I feel like they left with a greater knowledge of agriculture and conservation. The first day I did swine and the second day I did the dairy trailer. It was amazing how much info they retained. It was very impressive.”

Shanks says he looks forward to coming back for future camps.

“Absolutely,” he said. “Hopefully, they have a place for me to fit in because it was a lot of fun. I really enjoyed it and appreciated it. A lot of kids don’t understand where their food, milk and everything comes from. I had a lot of comments when I was holding a baby pig from kids who said they had never seen one in real life before. It meant a lot to them. I think it really exposes them to something they don’t normally get to see.”

Harden says there are many local high school students who help make the event possible.

“Typically, it is the Rossville High School FFA club that comes out and works aside the presenters,” Harden said. “That gives them experience on speaking on a topic in front of a group. It helped them get used to advocating for agriculture in front of a group. So we gave them that type of experience as well. I think that is another component of the camp that has been very beneficial.”