“Healthy Farms, Healthy Kids” began with a full youth track of sessions at our annual conference. Sessions were lead by experts in sustainable agriculture as well as by youth with conference. Sessions ranged from wildcrafting to beekeeping to value-added opportunities. The next portion of the project included taking children to an organic dairy farm near Raymond, Nebraska. At the farm, the children saw firsthand the inner workings of what makes a farm sustainable. They participated in a pasture walk, milked cows, made butter and cheese, and assisted with basic farm chores. The final portion of the project took this same group of kids to an area farmer’s market where children saw the same farm selling their products. This was done to show foods from farm to market to consumer. The children were also instructed to ask each farmer three questions. (Where they farm, what they farm, how they farm, etc.)
Participants gained a greater knowledge of how each part of a farm in interconnected and how it relates to the overall sustainability of the farm and the farm family. Participants learned the value of knowing where their food comes from and the work it takes to produce these foods.
The Sustainable Agriculture Society has a history of working with youth and sustainable agriculture. For ever ten years we have held youth sessions at our annual conference designed to enhance and promote sustainable agriculture in our youth. We have also partnered with and collaborated on projects throughout Nebraska that included projects and outreach for youth and their parents related to opportunities for youth.
To increase knowledge of sustainable family farming in Nebraska.
The first step in our project was to coordinate the youth sessions at the annual conference. We had several speakers and topics in mind, and these were based on discussions with youth currently involved on a sustainable farm in Nebraska. We also wanted to cater the sessions to the youth and make it on their level. Most of the participants in the conference portion of the project are very familiar with sustainable agriculture. The second step in the project was planning the farm tour. We had outlined an area farm prior to the project, and one whom had expressed a desire to participate I this project. I believe this is key for a farm tour geared for youth. We also needed to make sure it was during the weekdays to insure ample participation by youth. We worked with an area summer camp program, and they coordinated getting the children to the farm and back. The third step involved taking the same group that went to the farm tour to the marker. We did have a rather large group so once at the market we split the group into several sub groups, which would make conducting the interviews much easier for the farmers.
Doug and Krista Dittman, Branched Oak Farm – Doug and Krista run an organic dairy near Raymond, Nebraska. They are a great model and a great example of a working sustainable family farm.
Billene Nemec, Buy Fresh Buy Local Nebraska – Billene has been working with local foods and farms in Nebraska for a number of years. We attended the Havelock Market, which she directs.
Gary Lesoing, Nebraska SARE Coordinator – The annual conference is a collaboration with the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Gary is also on the board for NSAS, and assists in the coordination of the conference.
Nate Woods of the Malone Community Center – Mr. Woods coordinated getting the children from the community center to the farm and to the market.
The main focus of the grant was to reinvigorate our youth about sustainable farming. The first part of the project focused on children who were already involved in sustainable farming on some level. At this stage of the project our attempt was to increase their capacity to learn and be engaged on their farms with a myriad of different projects suited to their interests and backgrounds. We achieved this by having sessions that not only were from adult experts, but also their fellow youth experts. We also provided a diversity of subjects that included niche marketing, entrepreneurial, and local foods, beekeeping, to name a few.
The second part of this project achieved this focus by exposing many children to farming who perhaps had no inkling of it. A rough survey of the youth told us only one had been to a farm. However, the children were quite fascinated with the inner workings of the farm we visited. I believe this created in their minds the idea that it is possible to farm, even without that background. The farm tour showed two of the three tenets of sustainable farming; ecologically sound and socially responsible. The market tour also showed the benefits and profitability side of it.
I believe the greatest thing I learned was the need for youth involved with sustainable agriculture. One of the biggest issues facing agriculture is the lack of young farmers. Projects through the NCR-SARE Youth program provide a real opportunity to expand and motivate our youth and our future about farming and farming sustainably. A long-term goal we have at NSAS is to create a summer day camp for youth on sustainable agriculture, and I believe this project further motivated us as an organization to implement such a project.
The results exceeded our expectations. In 2009 we conducted a similar project (not a SARE project) and our members in 2010 were at least doubled. The smiles on the children’s faces and the excitement over farming has made an easy decision for us to continue to grow and expand the project. Currently there are no changes to the project.