On a mission for cooperation: It’s camp season 2016

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Farm Forum

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.

Like Kerner, each summer more than 2,000 rural youth ages 6 through high school seniors attend one or more of Farmers Union’s 58 county day camps; three, three-day district camps and one state leadership camp.

Through fun activities, Farmers Union teaches rural youth about cooperatives and farm safety where they can gain confidence, friendships and leadership skills, all while learning about the state’s number one industry, explains Rachel Haigh-Blume, S.D. Farmers Union Education Director.

“Today, as we become more and more removed from farms, South Dakota’s kids need to know about agriculture and its economic impact on our state,” says Haigh-Blume, who is new to Farmers Union, but is a veteran camp director.

In her previous career she worked with approximately 5,000 youth each year through in-classroom activities and camps.

“Camp is an environment where kids can have fun and learn at the same time,” explains Haigh-Blume, who grew up on a farm west of Hitchcock and currently lives on a farm near Tulare with her husband, Brian. “Whether these youth live on farms or have never set foot on a farm – it’s our goal to teach them in an impactful way about South Dakota’s agriculture to encourage them to support the state’s family farmers and ranchers.”

In her role, Haigh-Blume guides the team of teens who serve on the Junior Advisory and Senior Advisory Councils, as well as the Farmers Union college interns. These youth come up with the camp theme, develop the camp curriculum and lead the camp activities.

“I enjoy working with camp staff and teaching them how to be compassionate and motivated leaders so they can lead not only youth but others in their own personal growth,” Haigh-Blume says.

Kerner added that the leadership and interpersonal skills he developed through involvement in Farmers Union Youth Programming has helped him as a college student.

“I came to the School of Mines alone. I had to make a whole new circle of friends on my own. Farmers Union Camp really helped me become more comfortable talking to people. When I first came to camp, I was a really shy kid who didn’t talk to anyone other than my parents,” explains Kerner, who during 2014 State Camp was voted by his peers to receive the Bob Janish Memorial Friendship Award.

Each year this award is given to a camper who exemplifies the most friendship toward other campers throughout the week.

Reconnecting with friends from across South Dakota is the reason Hannah Sumption looks forward to attending Farmers Union camp year after year. “The friends I have made through Farmers Union have taught me not to be afraid to be myself,” Sumption says.

The Frederick Area High School sophomore has been attending camp for as long as she can remember. “My Grandma Sumption helps with camp, so all us grandkids went with her.”

More about Farmers Union Camps

Teaching the next generation about the cooperative system while helping them develop leadership and citizenship has been at the heart of Farmers Union youth educational programming since it was introduced to the state organization in the early 1940s.

Each summer the more than 50 County Day Camps are made possible thanks to the volunteer efforts of County Education Directors who volunteer their time to organize the hosting sites for the more than 50 county day camps throughout South Dakota. Together with the efforts of S.D. Farmers Union state staff, interns and youth elected to serve on the Junior Advisory and Senior Advisory Councils, approximately 2,000 youth attend one or more S.D. Farmers Union Camps.

For dates, times, locations and registration information for a camp near you, visit www.sdfu.org, click on the Education tab and scroll down to Youth Camps. You can also contact S.D. Farmers Union Education Director, Rachel Haigh-Blume at 605-352-6761, ext: 125 or rachel@sdfu.org.

Farmers Union District & Day Camps

South Dakota Farmers Union youth will look at how bees work together as they study the theme, “Cooperation of Bees.” Bees operate in a community to gather pollen and produce honey and wax. They are valuable to agriculture through their pollination practices and provide an excellent platform to look at how people can work together to accomplish tasks. Youth will also learn how beekeepers have pooled together to create a honey cooperative, and how being a part of a community means focusing on positive attitudes and actions toward others.

All youth ages 6-13 are invited to attend.

The honeybee’s cooperative nature and ability to succeed because of community will also be highlighted through fun leadership development activities designed to teach youth about cooperatives and working together to build stronger communities.

“Like a successful hive, by working together we all can accomplish more. What a fun way to teach youth about the role cooperatives play in our state, as well as the important role each of them can play in their communities,” said Rachel Haigh-Blume, South Dakota Farmers Union State Education Director. “Because of the important role honeybees play in agriculture, they have been in the news quite a bit lately. Kids are aware of what is going on in their world – this opens up great opportunities to dialogue about what today’s farmers do to take care of our natural resources.”

County day camps are affordable for families and include a day packed with fun activities, crafts, cooperative education and farm safety information.All campers will receive a free T-shirt, courtesy of Farmers Union Insurance.

The three-day District Camp is filled with interactive games, singing, crafts, canoeing, camp fires and many other camp traditions. Each child will also receive a free T-shirt courtesy of Farmers Union Insurance.

Farmers Union State Leadership Camp is held June 12-17, 2016. This week-long and held at Storm Mountain Center just outside Rapid City. During this camp, youth organize and operate five cooperative businesses. They also learn about the Farmers Union, other cooperative businesses, participate in leadership workshops, listen to guest speakers and participate in talent night.

A tour of the Black Hills, hiking, volleyball, basketball and fun cooperative games complete the camp experience and leave campers with lasting memories and many new friends. This camp is open to youth seventh grade through high school seniors.

Registration details

To register for State Leadership Camp, Farmers Union County and District Camps and for more details on when and where your local camp is being held, visit www.sdfu.org and click on the Calendar Tab then scroll to Youth Camp Calendar Tab. You can also pick registration forms up at your local Farmers Union Insurance Agency office or your local cooperative.