By Jackie Nelson
HESSTON – The Hesston Rec gave youth a unique opportunity to get hands-on with local agriculture last week during Ag Camp, held in cooperation with the Kansas Farm Bureau, and led by local dairy farmer MeLissa Drzymalla.
“Kids need to know where their food comes from. Farmers feed the world and this is where it starts – it starts with the kids. If they know where their food comes from, we’re going to have a good future,” said Drzymalla.
With her children growing up as the fifth generation on a Harvey County dairy farm, Drzymalla said agriculture is part of the larger community’s lifestyle.
“Farmers are the ones that put clothes on their backs and feed them. You can be involved in farming in many ways. It doesn’t have to be on the farm. You can still be involved in agriculture and impact the food system and economy,” she said.
Youth began the camp learning about the fundamentals of farming, down to an appreciation for an element as common as dirt.
“It all starts with the soil. It starts with taking good care of soil,” she said. Youth made their own – tastier – versions of soil, using Oreos, coconut and other treats to construct the layers of earth, beginning with bedrock and working up to topsoil.
Youth learned it takes centuries to generate just one inch of topsoil, and the Midwest lost 75 percent of its topsoil during The Dust Bowl.
“I think they found out things could look a little grim if you’re not taking care of that,” said Drzymalla.
The conversation went up the food chain, from soil to common Kansas crops.
“We talked about soil, conservation, then crops – wheat, corn, soybeans, milo, brome and alfalfa,” she said. Youth learned how many cans of soda could be sweetened with just one bushel of corn – over 400 – and the wide array of everyday items that contain soy.
The lessons then turned to livestock, particularly the beef and dairy industries that are prevalent in Harvey County.
“You’re not going to touch something throughout the day that hasn’t been produced by agriculture. You’re surrounded by it; you’re immersed in it whether you know it or not,” she said.
Drzymalla said the camp was a unique experience for Hesston youth.
“I don’t think you can go to any other small town and find a camp like this,” she said.
She said the hands-on nature of activities coupled with farm visits and chats with producers made the experience uniquely memorable.
“They are getting to build a pizza knowing where all the products came from; make their own ice cream in a jar and then meet these local producers who impact the community every day,” she said.
Drzymalla said, particularly as agriculture relates to Hesston, getting youth involved early is paramount.
“We are an ag community with AGCO here and all the different industries we have in town and in the county that are ag related. Susan Lamb does a phenomenal job of bringing an assortment of activities to the rec. She knew the importance of educating future community members about how important agriculture is,” she said.