Perspectives Online

Farm-Fresh Fun. A Haywood County day camp teaches youngsters food chain basics. By Art Latham

A scenic trout stream and the mini-farm at the Western North Carolina Nature Center were settings for encounters with nature for young Farm to Table campers.
The mini-farm at the Western North Carolina Nature Center was a setting for encounters with nature for young Farm to Table campers.
(Photos by Art Latham)
That was the thinking recently of a group of western North Carolina educators, including Wallace Simmons, Cooperative Extension’s 4-H agent for Haywood County.

“We named the annual 4–H day camp ‘From the Farm to the Table,’” says Simmons, “because a lot of children don’t realize where food truly comes from or how much work goes into getting it on the table.”

They did after a few days of farm and agritourism site tours with the 4-H experts.

And best of all, the lessons culminated in a tasty, farm-fresh, homegrown feast.

The camp’s planners and educators included Simmons, Margaret Ruff, 4-H program associate for Haywood County; Gail Heathman, an N.C. Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD) educator; and Terry Rogers, Haywood County Farm Bureau Members Association president.

The busy week started with a Monday prep session for junior leaders, who met on Tuesday morning at Cooperative Extension’s Haywood County Center, then divided the 53 campers into groups that tagged themselves with such appellations as Roosters, Quackers, Nannies and Spuds.

“‘Spuds’ were a group of boys,” Ruff says, laughing. “I have no idea how they came up with the name.”

Visits with exotic birds and playful barnyard animals were just the beginning of camp activities, which included making butter, shucking corn, milking cows and fishing for trout.
Visits with exotic birds and playful barnyard animals (above and below) were just the beginning of camp activities, which included making butter, shucking corn, milking cows and fishing for trout.
(Photos by Art Latham)
First on the group’s itinerary was a jaunt across rural Raccoon Road to the state Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services’ Mountain Research Station, popularly known as the “state test farm.” Bill Teague, station superintendent, arranged a tractor-pulled wagon ride and told the campers about ongoing agricultural research.

The campers rounded off the busy day with an afternoon visit to the Western North Carolina Nature Center’s mini-farm in Asheville for up-close encounters with all manner of barnyard and less-domesticated animal life.

Wednesday morning at the Extension center, campers rotated among various demonstrations and activities, including Simmons showing them how to handle eggs and make omelets; Ruff teaching how to string and break green beans, pick blueberries and shuck corn; and volunteer leader Cris Ammons helping them produce butter from milk and make biscuits to eat with homemade jelly.

Visits with exotic birds and playful barnyard animals.And the SWCD’s Heathman used a scale-model farm to demonstrate how stormwater makes uncontrolled mud slide downhill and also moves sludge, toxic wastes and unwanted nutrients into our water supply.

The afternoon included a visit to the dairy farm of Ralph and Barbara Ross to learn about milking machinery, equipment and procedures, as well as alternate feeds such as cottonseed, and not to stand too close behind a cow. The Rosses capped the visit with ice cream sandwiches for all.

Thursday, the group headed for Matt and Tracy Rhea’s Sorrels Creek Trout Farm. There, in the shadow of Cold Mountain, Skip Thompson, N.C Cooperative Extension area specialized agent for aquaculture for Haywood County, taught them how to cast rod-and-reel rigs safely. Many caught fish they’d eat at that evening’s banquet.

Simmons taught the group how to adjust binoculars for birding, and Ruff served apple snacks and helped the kids find rocks to paint.

Parents joined their children that evening at the home-cooked banquet at the center, which featured the trout and much more.

“It was amazing to watch the kids eat,” Ruff said. “Some had never broken or eaten green beans, never had an omelet. And the real butter was a highlight.”

After dinner, the kids demonstrated what they’d learned through a puppet show, skits and posters, and a fun-filled, educational week drew to a close.

Friday, however, the adults treated the hardworking junior leaders and themselves to a morning at the Fun Factory and lunch in nearby Macon County.

From Farm to Table’s sponsors included the Haywood County Farm Bureau Members Association, N.C. 4-H and the N.C. Soil and Water Conservation District’s Haywood County office.