Participants in the Carroll County Extension Service 4-H Camp finished up their journey from “farm to plate” in a camp last week which emphasized Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) used in agriculture.
Associate Extension Agent, 4-H Youth Development Jonette Mungo said it was composed of a series of camps beginning with a “bug camp” the first week of July and ending with a “cooking camp” on July 28. She said campers first learned about the influence of bugs and insects on environment and soil.
Mungo said a field trip along Beaver Dam Trail allowed participants to search for insects and fungus to better understand about pollinators and decompositors. Local beekeeper Benny Quesenberry brought an observation hive and talked about the importance of pollinators to agriculture. (Mungo said one 4-H project in the planning stages connected to skills learned in the camp is for 4-H members to establish an educational garden at Hillsville Elementary School.)
The second week built on the first’s content by getting down to some hands-on projects involving STEM in agriculture. Participants extracted DNA from Kiwi fruit to better understand how the strands of material replicate and then used kits representing DNA components to build their own creations. Mungo said this was done to help campers understand how agriculture improves plants and animals, which everyone relies on for food.
“We applied real science to agriculture and how that helps farmers to increase their yields,” said Mungo. “We talked about how Global Positioning Systems (GPS) technology helps farmers keep track of the changing landscape in their fields and on their farms.” Participants learned how GPS information is now routinely used to determine erosion and water sources.
Mungo said soil quality concepts were also taught during this portion of the camp. A field trip to Cathy Bachara’s farm allowed the group to see a farm employing long-term, sustainable agricultural practices. Engineer Nick Fairhurst accompanied campers on this outing.
“Cathy’s farm is very green (organic). She uses natural solutions and I pointed out to the students it is solar powered,” Mungo said. “It wasn’t the most solar panels they’ve ever seen but what she has runs the whole farm.”
She said campers got to see her solutions to keep away pests, keep animals healthy and protect water quality. Mungo said campers especially liked “Emma,” a donkey who is kept in with livestock to chase away coyotes.
Camps next learned about how robotic systems are being used on small farms and extreme commercial levels to allow farmers to produce more on less property. They also learned about how economics often drives agricultural innovation.
Participants learned how drone technology is being used by farmers and downloaded a wireless software application on their phones to allow them some “flight time” as pilot and photographer for their own drone flights. Mungo said while one student flew the small aircraft, the other took pictures on their cell phone. She said this is commonly used by farmers to keep track of crop growth and to see where more or less water is needed in fields early on before crops are lost.
Mungo stressed the camp was a team effort with all of the Extension agents lending a hand on the educational camps with the Carroll County Public School District helping with transportation. Agent Amanda Terry led portions of the camp concentrating on portion control ( through the MyPlate program) and food safety. A “pizza day” where campers got to cook their own pies (fresh ingredients versus processed ones) and let parents sample them and vote went over well.
Agriculture and Natural Resources Crop & Soil Sciences Agent Steve Pottorff, for instance, helped in the soil quality component of the camp. Students, under Pottorff’s guidance, discovered how clay dominates many local soils, they used their “findings” to form their own pottery, which was dried in the sun.
She said the camps ran the spectrum from extracting iron from breakfast cereal to using newly learned etiquette skills at Bogey’s Restaurant in Galax. Mungo said she hopes campers will enter their own recipes in the upcoming Carroll County Agricultural Fair.
“This has been a very busy month. We’ve covered a lot of ground,” said Mungo. “It’s been a huge community effort (the camp was funded by a grant from United Way) and it’s all to keep kids’ minds active during the summer. They need to know agriculture is a viable choice for a career. This went beyond just lecture. It’s been a fun summer and we’re rethinking some things to make it different and what things to keep next year.”
David Broyles may be reached at 276-779-4013 or on [email protected]