Wayne Co. children’s home summer farm camp exposes children to ag careers

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children look at dairy calves
During a trip to Baer Family Dairy Farm, in Marshallville, Ohio, children with the Christian Children's Home of Ohio's summer farm camp got to visit with the calves. (Photo by Christian Children's Home of Ohio)

Many children spend a lot of time thinking and talking about what they want to be when they grow up. As they get older, they start to explore careers through schools or activities like 4-H. But a lot of those conversations start around the dinner table, with their families.

The children that the Christian Children’s Home of Ohio works with, however, haven’t all had those opportunities. The Christian Children’s Home of Ohio is a residential treatment center for abused and neglected children.

“The children that we’re dealing with are coming from abuse and neglect, and some of them haven’t had the opportunities that typical kids have,” said David Walker, donor relations manager for the center. “We want to get them excited about potential careers that they could get involved with.”

That’s why this year, the center is running a summer farm camp to help the children it works with explore agriculture. Wayne County, where the center is located, is the top dairy-producing county in Ohio, and the third largest agricultural economy in the state, according to the county’s economic development council.

“I want to see them walk away with just an understanding of agriculture,” said Forrest Lang, director of the farm camp and instructor at the Ohio State University Agricultural Technical Institute. “Showing them that there are these viable career opportunities to work outside on a daily basis … sparking interest in a potential career route.”

Campers

The center houses as many as 45 children on campus, and also has 13 Christian counseling centers around northeast Ohio. The camp attendees are children who live at the center and children who are treated at the counseling centers. They range in age from 6 to 18.

The camp is funded by a Youth Pathways grant for Careers in Agriculture from the Ohio Farm Bureau Foundation. The grant program aims to get youth interested in careers in agriculture.

When the center and the organizers started planning the details of the program, after getting the grant in February, they were only expecting about 30 or 40 children, Walker said. But by the time the program started in June, there were more than 100 signed up.

“We were overwhelmed by how many people wanted to do it,” Walker said.

children look at dairy cows in a barn
Children look at dairy cows on a farm visit to Baer Family Dairy Farm, in Marshallville, Ohio, with the Christian Children’s Home of Ohio’s summer farm camp. (Photo by Christian Children’s Home of Ohio)

Program

The farm camp includes classroom sessions and visits to farms in the area. Because of the number of children in the program, Lang is conducting four classroom sessions. Children are divided into three different grade levels.

“Really the only challenge is logistics,” Lang said. “As far as the actual classroom and tours, it couldn’t be going better.”

The topics the program is covering include dairy farming, livestock farming, beekeeping and technology in agriculture.

For the classroom sessions, Lang used some of the resources and information that the Ohio Farm Bureau had available to make tools like virtual presentations that children can click through to learn about different topics. One of the goals for Lang and the Christian Children’s Home of Ohio was to put together tools that other organizations can use for their own programs.

“We’re not trying to reinvent the wheel,” Lang said. “I’m just utilizing a lot of what [the farm bureau has], and repackaging into a template that can be used by someone with an education background at another organization.”

Lang also had the children put together projects about whatever topic they’re the most interested in from the classes, and took the children with the top 15-20 projects to the state fair, “so they can kind of engage in a completely non-classroom environment with topics of agriculture,” he said.

The program will wrap up in the second week of August, leaving some time between the end of the camp and the beginning of the school year. Certified Angus Beef will hold a graduation ceremony for the children at a beef cattle farm at the end of the camp.

“Our goals are to provide a fun and memorable experience,” said Mandy Atterholt, beef community educator for Certified Angus Beef. “We also want them to see where beef comes from.”

Farm visits

The children have already visited several farms in the area. The camp includes visits to a dairy farm, a bison farm, Ohio State ATI, the Ohio Beekeepers Association and Certified Angus Beef.

Because of the number of children in the program, farm visits are split up over several days. While the logistics can be a little tricky, the visits themselves have gone smoothly.

“The kids just did so well,” said Carolyn Baer, of Baer Family Dairy Farm. The Marshallville, Ohio farm hosted the children in the program in June. “We let them climb up in the tractors and take pictures, and some of the teenage girls actually got to milk a cow.”

The farm uses robotic milkers to milk 250 cows and has been in the family for 200 years. Baer and her family gave the children tours of their farm that included seeing the robotic milking process, the feeding and manure systems, historic buildings and the calves on the farm.

“We think animals are therapeutic, so we really enjoy taking kids to pet the baby calves and talk to cows,” Baer said.

The children visited each farm in a few different groups over several days. For the visit Certified Angus Beef is hosting at Chippewa Valley Angus Farm, in Wayne County, the organization is planning to show the children around the farm and to hold a wide range of games and activities like bingo, trivia and bale tosses.

“Some education and fun combined is kind of what we’re going for,” Atterholt said.

While the main goals of the program were to introduce children to opportunities in agriculture, the farmers involved believe there’s a lot the children can learn from farm visits even if they aren’t interested in careers in agriculture. As an agriculture teacher, Baer also likes to host field trips and farm visits so children can learn about where food comes from and how farmers take care of their animals and environment responsibly.

“We really like to leave the message that working together is what makes us successful,” she said.

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Reporter Sarah Donaldson is a former 4-Her and a Mount Union graduate from Columbiana County, Ohio. She enjoys playing and writing music, cooking, and storytelling in many forms. She can be reached at 800-837-3419 or sarah@farmanddairy.com.

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