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NMSU Valencia County Extension program receives national recognition

LOS LUNAS – In August when school teachers ask what did you do this summer, some will be surprised to hear their students say they watched a cow being milked and meat being cut into steaks, or they saw the honeycomb inside a beehive.

Girl holding a tablet
Participants in the Food Camp for Kids, hosted by New Mexico State University’s Cooperative Extension Service in Valencia County, took photos and video of the agricultural operations they visited to add to their camp-culminating multi-media presentations presented to 30-40 adults, including their parents. (NMSU photo by Jane Moorman)
Man talking to kids
Jose Cordova, owner of Valencia Flour Mill, explains how the mill grinds wheat into flour to participants in the Food Camp for Kids program held by New Mexico State University’s Cooperative Extension Service in Valencia County. (NMSU photo by Jane Moorman)
Kids watching man with ground beef
Participants in Food Camp for Kids watch as ground beef is packaged at Mathews’ Custom Meat Processing plant in Belen. The camp was held by New Mexico State University’s Valencia County Cooperative Extension Service agents. (NMSU photo by Jane Moorman)

The youth, ages 9-14, learned about the agricultural industry in their county during Food Camp for Kids, hosted by New Mexico State University’s College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences’ Cooperative Extension Service in Valencia County.

“Exceeded expectations” is a phrase used by Laura Bittner, Extension family and consumer science agent and county program director, and Newt McCarty, the county’s Extension agricultural agent, who collaborated to create the camp concept and conducted it for a second year this summer.

Campers not only learned where their food comes from by visiting agricultural producers, they learned how to prepare recipes with the products. The culmination of the week-long camp was the multi-media presentations of what they learned to an audience of 30-40 adults, including their parents.

“It was more than just a one-day workshop, it was a six-day experiential program that had both the agriculture and home economics components,” said Kathryn Hopkins, University of Maine Extension professor and chair of the National Association of County Agricultural Agents public relations committee. Hopkins said for that reason, Food Camp for Kids will be honored as a national finalist during the association’s annual conference in Salt Lake City on July 10.

Food Camp for Kids is among two programs receiving the second highest honor bestowed by the association in the Agriculture Awareness and Appreciation Award category. It was among 12 programs judged by three of the four regional committees as they each selected a winner from their region to advance to the national level. A program in Florida took the top honor.

“Receiving this recognition is an honor we share with all involved in Food Camp for Kids, including our student intern, recent NMSU graduate Sierra Hamlin, who assisted with food camp this year and last,” Bittner said. “Our local agricultural community and volunteers have provided tremendous support and ongoing enthusiasm for this program providing agricultural field trip sites, educational information and donations.”

Field trip hosts included 4 Daughter Feed Lot, Mechenbier Pig Farm, Hays Honey and Apple Farm, Toni Barrow’s grass fed beef, Mathews’ Custom Meat Processing, Valencia Flour Mill, Edeal Dairy, DeSmet’s Dairy, Tome Berry Farm, Greenhouse Rotisserie & Bistro garden, and Valencia County Community Garden.

“I enjoyed being part of the field trips and showing the kids where milk comes from and how a dairy operates,” said Matt Edeal, owner of Edeal Dairy in Los Lunas. “People are not as connected to the farm as they used to be. The experience is really good for kids. It’s something that needs to be done more often.”

“This free program would not have been possible without the financial support of our sponsors, including Valencia County Farm and Livestock Bureau, New Mexico Farm and Livestock Bureau, and New Mexico Beef Council,” said McCarty.

One of the New Mexico Beef Council’s missions is to educate the consumer about the beef industry.

“We supported the camp because it is a great tool for educating consumers about where their food comes from. There is a resurgence of interest in locally grow food by the Millennials and this next generation of youth,” said Dina Chacon-Reitzel, executive director of New Mexico Beef Council.

“The curriculum for this camp is so thorough I understand why they are getting this national recognition,” Chacon-Reitzel said. “It is so well done and so well thought out. I think the camp is marvelous. The Beef Council would like to see this program replicated in counties all over the state.”

A key component of the program was the homework assigned daily to the campers. They were to share what they learned with their parents.

“We are very grateful for the parents and family members supporting their children participating in food camp,” said Bittner. “The homework reinforced what the campers learned during the day.”

Each morning the campers brought in written comments from their parents regarding this homework.

“My son is enjoying this so much!” a 14-year-old camper’s mother wrote. “He couldn’t stop talking about it.”

“This experience has made our daughter want to get more involved in showing animals,” said the mother of another 14-year-old camper. “She wants to get a piglet to raise.”

“Our son had many fun facts to share about bees. He was teaching us about how hives are hexagon structures,” reported another camper’s mother. “He told us camp that day was ‘the best day of my life!’”

To watch a video about Food Camp for Kids visit https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lExxR1I5rCM.