Farm Academy doubles participation
WEST FRIENDSHIP, Md. — In its third year at the Howard County Fair, the Howard County Farm Academy teamed up with the summer camp program of the county’s Department of Recreation & Parks and brought 600 summer campers to experience the Fair firsthand and learn about the agriculture in their county.
A partnership of the Howard County Office of Sustainability, the Howard Soil Conservation District, and the agricultural business development office of the Howard County Economic Development Authority, the Farm Academy was created during the summer of 2015 to help connect the residential community and the farms within the county as well as give county farmers an opportunity to “explain various kinds of farming operations at their farms.”
On early Tuesday afternoon, less than two days before the campers, their counselors and other adult chaperones would descend on the Howard County Fairgrounds, Kathy Johnson, Director of Agricultural Business Development for the Howard County Economic Development Authority, discussed how this year’s teaming with the summer camp program had come about.
“We started with Rec & Parks because Julie Martin, who runs the camps, also sits on the Farm-City Celebration board,” a two-week long fall event that provides numerous fun opportunities for families and the public to learn about the county’s farms.
As part of the Celebration, the Farm Academy runs a three-hour Saturday morning session — scheduled this year for Saturday, September 28, 2019 from 9 a.m. to noon at Triadelphia Lake View Farm — where one of the county farms opens up its operations to raise awareness and educate community members on what farming is all about.
“By starting with Rec & Parks, we can see how it goes,” Johnson explained Tuesday, “because we’re pulling a lot people from our three offices to do it.”
On Saturday morning, Johnson and James Zoller, one of her partners from the Office of Community Sustainability, noted they “had great numbers” from this year’s Fair week and the visit from the summer camp program. “We had 264 campers actually do the guided Farm Academy tour on Thursday,” said Johnson, “and another 73 who came and did the crafts” sponsored by the Roving Radish, a Farm-to-Table meal kit program run by the Office of Community Sustainability, and for which Zoller serves as program director.
For the campers’ visit, they decided to bring back the option of the guided tour, which had been done during the Farm Academy’s first year at the Fair.
“We wanted to educate people about the different aspects at the Fair, but we found that not everyone had the time to do a 30 to 40-minute tour,” said Johnson.
Instead, they came up with a scavenger hunt idea to implement a self-guided tour of the Fair. Participants receive a Farm Academy passport card with 7 questions that can be answered from the facts found on green signs posted on the barns and other exhibit buildings around the Fair.
Participants in the self-guided tour were encouraged to talk to 4-H members for help answering the questions.
And, when they returned their completed passport card to the Farm Academy tent, they received a prize, this year an assortment of cute farm animal squishies.
Indeed, they’ve “found a huge success with the scavenger hunt idea,” said Johnson. Helped by a series of signs, this year’s self-guided tours, with about 1,100 completed passports, more than doubled last year’s Fair completed passport numbers.
The signs, researched and pulled together for the 2018 Fair as a Diamond Clover 4-H project by Ellie Feaga, who is a 4-H member and currently the president of Howard County’s FFA chapter, have 10 facts that support a rotating set of questions, each of which “is supposed to be simple and unbiased because they’re meant for all groups and all levels of knowledge about agriculture,” explained Feaga. “Ideally, it was designed from the beginning to be a 10-year sustainable plan.”
In fact, thanks to this year’s success of the Farm Academy’s self-guided tours, on Saturday morning, Johnson and Zoller mentioned they were “trying to figure out how to expand the Ag Education Exhibit in the Main Exhibit Hall to include horse facts or bee/pollinator facts,” both of which they currently did not have information posted for.
And, building on their rousing success at this year’s Fair, they hope to fill all the reservation slots at this fall’s upcoming Farm Academy at TLV Farm.