Extending first only the tips of their shoes, then their whole feet, the group of blue-clad children inched their way out onto the Waseca, Minn., soybean field, weaving carefully around the nearly knee-high plants before crouching down to examine their leaves.
Rachael Anderson, an intern with the Minnesota Soybean Office, stood at the edge of the veritable sea of plants, watching as the kids waded out among them. They were looking for aphids, she explained, small, yellow-bodied insects less than one-sixteenth of an inch long.
Though diminutive, the bugs pose a serious threat to the state's soybean crops, Anderson said. Earlier this month, kids participating in Waseca's Farm Camp Minnesota got to see how prevalent the aphids are firsthand, The (Mankato) Free Press reported.
"There's about 100 over here!" one of the kids shouted.
Anderson squatted down at the edge of the field and turned over a leaf to reveal more of the insects before looking out at the kids.
"They love actually going out there and being able to touch and feel and find them themselves," she said.
"There's some more over here!" another one of the kids shouted over her head.
Held annually, Farm Camp Minnesota gives kids not only a chance hunt for aphids, but walk among corn stalks, take tractor rides, see cows and calves, pigs, poultry and more.
It also teaches them the difference between the beef and dairy industry, the vast number of products that contain corn or soy, and how modern technology is used to grow enough crops to feed the entire world, said Andrea Hildebrandt, one of the event's organizers.
For three years in a row, Farm Camp has striven to teach area third-, fourth-, fifth- and sixth-graders all about modern-day farming.
"The main purpose is to teach the kids about modern agriculture and where their food comes from," Hildebrandt said. "The U.S. produces the safest food and most abundant food supply in the world."
The camp itself is put on by farmers local to Waseca and agri-business people who love farming and want to share that passion with young people.
Tyler Anderson, with Owatonna's Ag Power Enterprises, gave kids rides in a large John Deere tractor. He fielded all kinds of questions from several youngsters, he said, many of whom have never seen such a large piece of machinery up close.
"They're very curious and they're pretty smart," Anderson said. "I talked with a 9-year-old from Texas. I talked to an 8-year-old from Brunner yesterday. We even had a family from California. We gave a few adults rides too, because tractors today are so different."
For 9-year-old Caleb Mathoweitz, who came from St. Clair, the tractor rides were the best part of the trip.
"I thought it was really cool and this is probably a really cool experience for me," he said.
His friend, 8-year-old Gabe Sonnek of Mapleton, tried to describe what the tractor's cab was like.
"It was kinda small, kinda crowded but really cool," he said.
Both boys said they didn't know much about farming but wanted to learn more. Part of St. Clair Schools Kids Connection summer program, they were there with a group of 16.
Their chaperone, Tate Rose, said the trip fit perfectly into Kids Connection curriculum and provides the students a fun, educational experience.
"We like to do educational units every week," Rose said. "Since St. Clair is pretty rural, this is a perfect way to cover agriculture and farms."
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