Modern technology is essential to today’s agricultural producers, but that same technology sometimes keeps their children from getting outside as much as they should.That’s one thing South Dakota Farmers Union Education Director, Rachel Haigh-Blume keeps in mind when planning camps.
“Everything is so structured now-a-days. It’s really important that kids get to be kids,” says Haigh-Blume. “Anything that promotes play, imagination and outdoors is really important.”
South Dakota Farmers Union hosts around 50 camps across the state each year. But camp’s not all about running and jumping; it’s also about education and introducing youth to the many opportunities that exist within the farming community.
“We have a career focus with fun activities on things like animal care, business and mechanics,” says Haigh-Blume. “We want to get kids thinking about all the skills required on a farm and what talents they can bring back as young producers.”
Jesse Carlson, Seneca, and Reece Schultz, Orient, were selected to serve on the 2016-2017 Senior Advisory Council during the 2016 S.D. Farmers Union State Convention, held in Pierre December 2016.
In this role, Carlson, a freshman studying Economics at South Dakota State University, and Schultz, a freshman studying Production Innovation at Dakota State University, will provide advice and act as mentors to the six members of the Farmers Union Youth Advisory Council. The Youth Advisory Council helps organize and plan Farmers Union State Leadership camp each year.
Below, the college students visit about what they look forward to in this new leadership role and discuss how the personal leadership development and communication skills they developed through Farmers Union educational programming has helped them during their first year of college.
When it comes to providing opportunities for McCook county youth, the 2016 recipient of the S.D. Farmers Union Minnie Lovinger Esteemed Educator Award, Tracy Chase, doesn't say 'no.'
She said 'yes' when the High School Agriculture Education Instructor, Terry Rieckman, asked the science teacher to take on some agriculture education classes. "He said, 'What do you think about us working together?' FFA provides great opportunities for students, so I began teaching Animal Science, Agriculture Foods and Natural Resources classes,'" recalls Chase, who grew up on a McCook County dairy farm.
Twelve years ago, she also said 'yes' when Farmers Union District 2 President, Jim Wahl, asked if she would serve as the Education Director for McCook County. "You have to provide opportunities for kids and South Dakota Farmers Union does just that," says Tracy, of why she accepted the additional responsibility.
Chase points to the youth from McCook Central who have benefited from attending Leadership Camp, receiving the Torchbearer Award, as well as Farmers Union scholarships. During the 2016 South Dakota State Fair Team-Up for Farm Safety Quiz Bowl Championships, the McCook Central FFA team took home first place.
More than 1,729 youth, ages 6 to 18, learned about cooperatives, developed leadership skills and celebrated South Dakota's agriculture industry together by attending a Farmers Union County, District or State camp this summer.
"Camps ensure the tradition of educating our youth on the importance of cooperatives, leadership at the local level, and farm safety,” says Rachel Haigh-Blume, S.D. Farmers Union Education Director.
Each year, Haigh-Blume, along with a team of interns and members of the Junior and Senior Advisory Council, develop camp programming which achieves the aforementioned goals through fun, age-appropriate activities.
This summer Farmers Union held more than 57 county camps, three district camps (seven districts participating), one local camp and a State Leadership Camp.
"Camp season is a great example of how Farmers Union, as a grassroots organization, led by its membership, can have a positive impact on rural communities," said Doug Sombke, S.D. Farmers Union President.
The 2016-2017 Junior Advisory Council members include: AJ Schoenfelder, Parkston; Abbey Tschetter, Huron; Cole Van Gorp, Stickney; Jonah Murtha, Parkston; Shaun Snedeker, Woonsocket; and Madelyn Kline, Huron.
During the 2016 State Leadership Camp, a six-member Junior Advisory Council was selected by the Youth and Education Council to serve as leaders, role models and representatives in planning and conducting the 2017 State Leadership Camp.
The 2016-2017 Junior Advisory Council (JAC) who were announced during State Camp include: Cole Van Gorp, Corsica; Shaun Snedeker, Stickney; AJ Schoenfelder, Parkston; Madelyn Kline, Huron; Jonah Murtha, Parkston; and Abbey Tschetter, Huron.
Growing up on a farm south of Gregory, Dowain Kerner didn't give his dad, Dean's, career much thought. That is, until he began attending Farmers Union Camp as a kid.
"I was born on a farm; it's what my dad does for a living. But when I was little, I wasn't into farming at all. Attending camp really gave me an interest in farming," says Kerner, 18, who has been attending Farmers Union Camp since he was 8.
Positive peer pressure is how Kerner explains his change of heart. "I really connected with the kids and leaders at Farmers Union Camp. They were excited about farming, ranching and cooperatives - this sparked an interest in me."
Finished with his first year at the School of Mines and Technology in Rapid City, Kerner is pursuing Chemical Engineering with the hopes of putting his degree to work for the agriculture industry.
"I thought it would be cool to work for a company that produces products my dad and other farmers use to protect or enhance their crops," explains the 2015 Torchbearer.
South Dakota Farmers Union recently hired Rachel Haigh-Blume to serve as Education Director.
"We are excited about Rachel's background and professional experience, as well as her enthusiasm for youth and agriculture," said Doug Sombke, President of South Dakota Farmers Union.
Haigh-Blume will be responsible for educational programming, which serves more than 3,000 South Dakotans each year.
Since it was established to serve family farmers and ranchers more than a century ago, education has been a focus of South Dakota Farmers Union. "SDFU Educational programming is developed to enrich the lives of rural South Dakotans; whether it's through county, district or state camps held throughout the summer which teach rural youth about farm safety, cooperative education and leadership development or Rural Economic & Leadership Program (REAL) and Young Producer Events which provide leadership and professional development to agriculture producers and rural professionals," explains Karla Hofhenke, Executive Director of SDFU.
The South Dakota Farmers Union Foundation provides camps for youth of all ages. The camps provide an atmosphere of recreation, adventure and fun while our youth learn about Farmers Union, cooperatives, leadership and social interaction. These camps are divided into three categories: State, District and County Camps. Camps run from end of May through middle of August each summer.