- Associated Press - Saturday, May 14, 2016

RICE, Minn. (AP) - Teaching kids about agriculture has been a lifelong passion for the Schmitt family.

Ever since her four kids were little, Natalie Schmitt said they would always bring their friends over to the family’s farm, Schmitt Dairy, just north of Rice.

“We would get a lot of the nonfarm kids,” Schmitt said. “They would climb straw bales. It’s something we’ve always done.”

But as her children have grown, the family farm has a lot fewer little people running around, the St. Cloud Times (https://on.sctimes.com/1q9dL0d ) reported.

That is, until July 26 when Natalie and her husband, Mark, will open up their farm to kids of Central Minnesota for the area’s first Farm Camp.

Inspired by their daughter Katie, 21, the Schmitts have agreed to partner with the Twin Cities-based Farm Camp volunteer organization to introduce kids in third through sixth grade to the many fields of agribusiness.

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“It started as a one-day camp held in Waseca,” said Kathy Guse, president of Farm Camp Minnesota. “The University of Minnesota has an experimental station down here and we had a full day where a lot of (agricultural) organizations and the public came.”

Guse, who was hosting a booth, remembers one particular incident that sparked an idea. Playing one of those table top, spinning wheel trivia games, a little boy landed on a square about soybeans.

“I asked him what soybeans are,” Guse said. “And the little boy didn’t know. And the mom gave me that look like ‘Don’t ask me because I don’t know.’ And I felt that there was a real need for (something like Farm Camp) to educate people because there was a real disconnect. People are getting away from where their food source is.”

In 2012, Guse and a group of volunteers decided it was time to reintroduce people to agriculture.

Camp-goers have the opportunity to spend six hours on a farm learning about different forms of agriculture. Guse said stations are set up with hands-on activities for kids to learn about dairy and beef cattle, corn, soybeans, farm machinery, pigs and poultry. Industry organizations like the Minnesota Beef Council, Minnesota Corn Growers Association and the Minnesota Pork Board provide resources, information, supplies - including some animals - and staff many of these stations.

Lunch and snacks are served for kids during the day, and each child receives a treat bag filled with stuff representing each station they attended.

That first year, Guse said the group thought they would be lucky to get 100 kids interested and registered for the one-day camp. They exceeded their goal.

“After the first year we knew we had to expand,” Guse said.

Over the last three years, Farm Camp Minnesota has added an additional day in Waseca and had partnered with Barb and Paul Liebenstein of Wolf Creek Dairy to host the day camp near Dundas. It was the Wolf Creek Dairy Farm Camp along with helping out at the Waseca farm camps that got Katie Schmitt thinking about volunteering her parents’ 100-dairy cattle farm to host an event in St. Cloud.

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As an intern for the Minnesota Farm Bureau, Schmitt said she loved the idea of exposing young kids to the opportunities agriculture provides.

“I personally take every opportunity I have to share what farmers are doing,” said Schmitt, a senior animal science major at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities. “I decided to stay in (Farm Camp Minnesota).”

With it not being practical to bus kids from St. Cloud to areas south of the Twin Cities, Schmitt said she approached her family about hosting a crowd of about 150 kids at their home.

“We have the dairy background and the skills to do this,” she said.

With her parents’ support, Schmitt and Farm Camp Minnesota committed to expanding the organization’s reach to Central Minnesota.

Along with the agribusiness industry leaders, Central Minnesota’s Farm Camp will have a vegetable garden and pollinator station. Volunteers will include local 4-H Club and FFA members, and area dairy princesses are being recruited to help.

Schmitt Dairy is already preparing for the event. Natalie said her garden has been planted and she is hoping one of her cows, Miranda, will calve just in time for the kids to see a live birth.

“I’m excited for the kids to learn something,” Mark Schmitt said. “It’s a learning experience. Our own kids and their friends are always learning. Their minds are wide open to learn.”

The Schmitts hope that along with the added knowledge of where food comes from, kids attending farm camp will be open to the possibility of pursuing a career in agriculture.

“I think it’s important that we show especially young kids that agriculture is a great place for opportunities, even if you don’t grow up on a farm,” Katie Schmitt said.

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Information from: St. Cloud Times, https://www.sctimes.com


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