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Youth learn where their food comes from during NMSU Food Camp for Kids

LOS LUNAS ? Three out of four consumers know nothing or very little about farming and ranching, according to a survey by the U.S. Farmers & Ranchers Alliance. That percentage is even higher for youth.


Youth watching men working with ground beef.
Participants in Food Camp for Kids watch as ground beef is packaged at Mathews? Custom Meat Processing plant in Belen. The camp was held by New Mexico State University's Valencia County Cooperative Extension Service agents. (NMSU Photo by Jane Moorman)

Jose Cordova, owner of the Valencia Flour Mill, tells Food Camp for Kids participants how the mill grinds wheat into flour. The six-day Food Camp for Kids was conducted by New Mexico State University?s Valencia County Cooperative Extension Service agents. Participants visited agricultural producers in the county on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, and cooked on Tuesday and Thursday. (NMSU photo by Jane Moorman)

Two New Mexico State University Cooperative Extension Service county agents decided to help youth learn about the agricultural industry in their county by hosting two Food Camp for Kids one-week programs.

?The idea for Food Camp for Kids came about with the understanding that many people are disconnected from where their food comes from, especially youth,? said Newt McCarty, NMSU Extension agent in Valencia County. ?We wanted to show them where their food comes from with actual experiences of seeing the livestock, honey and berry farms, orchard and dairy that exist in their county.?

Valencia County has annual agricultural cash receipts of $76 million for livestock and $10.9 million for crops, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture farm statistics. It has a wide variety of food production ranging from beef cattle, pigs and lambs, to fruit orchards, raspberries and garden vegetables. It also produces products such as packaged meat, milk, honey and flour.

?Food Camp for Kids was a six-day, six-hour-a-day camp for youth ages 9 to 14 that included field trips, hands-on cooking activities and a lot of discussion,? said Laura Bittner, NMSU?s Valencia County Extension director and family and consumer science agent.

Monday, Wednesday and Friday the youth visited Hays Apple Orchard and Honey Farm and DeSmet?s Raw Milk Dairy in Bosque Farms; 4 Daughters Cattle Feed Lot and Mechenbier Pig Farm in Los Lunas; the organic garden at Green House Bistro and Tome Berry Farm in Tome; Toni Barrow?s grass fed beef farm and Mathews? Custom Meat Processing plant in Belen; and the Valencia Flour Mill in Jarales.

On Tuesday and Thursday the youth planned a meal, selected recipes, shopped for ingredients and cooked while learning about food safety practices.

?We provided the kids with a hands-on opportunity where they could take the food products they had learned about the day before and actually get into the kitchen and prepare recipes using those particular products,? Bittner said.

Volunteers Carolyn Chance and Debby Hasse, from the county?s Extension Association of New Mexico club, taught the youth how to make black pepper biscuits and freezer jam. Hasse, a graduate of NMSU?s Master Food Preservation program, taught the youth about canning and freezing fresh produce.

?We set some pretty high expectations of the youth,? Bittner said. ?They were responsible for capturing the week?s activities using iPads from NMSU?s Learning Lab.?

They used the iPads to take pictures, videos and notes from their interviews with the producers and growers.

?They not only met our expectations, they exceeded our expectations with their technical skills and their presentation to a group of 30-40 adults on Saturday,? she said.

What did the youth learn from the week at camp?

?The field trips were really fun and informative,? said Shaylee Cordova, 9, of Belen.

?I learned that out of a 1,300-pound cow, only one cup of fluid is not used,? said Adrian Rodriguez, 14, of Los Lunas. His brother, Abram Rodriguez, 11, thought it was interesting that the cattle at the feed lot were fed cereal and granola bars that was waste from the cereal factory.

?Pigs sweat through their mouths and hooves,? said John Wallace, 12, of Belen. His sister Caelie Wallace, 10, said she learned that baby piglets develop in the womb in three months, three weeks and three days and that a red Angus can be bred by a black Angus cow and a black Angus bull.

?Pigs can weigh as much as 700 pounds,? said Aiden Lane, 12, of Los Lunas. ?When they are 200 pounds they send them to the butcher.?

?This was the first time I?ve seen cows being milked,? said Dominic Martinez, 9, of Los Lunas.

Rio Romero, 11, of Los Lunas, thought it was cool that the dairy only milked once a day so the mother cow can provide for its babies and the dairymen don?t have to bottle feed the calves.

At the berry farm, the youth thought it was neat to pick the raspberries and eat them immediately in the field.

Visiting the flour mill, which was built in 1914, was a high point in the field trips for several of the youth. ?I liked all of the machines, especially when they were running,? said Isaiah Martinez, 9, of Los Lunas.

?I thought it was neat that he had rebuilt everything and that belts from a main shaft in the ceiling turned each machine,? said Shauncey Cordova, 10, of Belen.

To hear more about what the youth learned, watch the Food Camp for Kids video at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lExxR1I5rCM.