By Megan Goyette
The Sierra Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD) in Truth or Consequences, N.M., received a 2020 Friends of NACD District Grant to help fund the first-ever Conservation Days summer camp this past July. The camp would have introduced middle school students to agriculture and conservation through field trips that would allow them to milk cows, brand calves, learn wildlife management, and visit various operations such as a peach orchard and chicken farm. However, COVID-19 (coronavirus) had other plans, and the summer camp was canceled.
This did not stop Sierra SWCD from pushing forward and continuing their mission to provide conservation education to students in the community. The SWCD really wanted the students to be able to learn hands-on experiences and not have to be forced to partake in any more virtual events. As a result, the SWCD decided to send students home with conservation kits that provided hands-on learning experiences, as well as a summer camp t-shirt and backpack filled with educational materials and goodies from various district partners, including the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), Farm Service Agency (FSA), the local extension office and the New Mexico Beef Council.
The various activities that were sent home with students included a frog raising kit, where students were given tadpoles and a tank that they used to raise the tadpoles into frogs and learn about their lifecycle. They were also given a butterfly kit, which allowed them to observe the lifecycle from caterpillar to butterfly. One of the most popular activities was the ecosphere, a small glass ball that contains a completely closed ecosystem of shrimp, algae and bacteria. This ecosystem is self-contained and in perfect balance, which teaches students about habitat and carbon dioxide (CO2) exchange.
Additionally, many students received a complete aquaponics system to take home, with the opportunity to raise fish and grow plants from the recycled water and waste. The last item was a mushroom growing kit that gave students the opportunity to grow their own food and even cook with it if they chose to.
With an extremely positive response from the participating children, Sierra SWCD decided to provide “grab bags” available for pick up at the office, allowing any student to take home a bag filled with a hands-on activity, as well as some educational materials. The bags also included three posts and three different herb seeds for students to start an herb garden at home.
Through the program, the SWCD educated many students from both rural and urban areas that the SWCD had been unable to reach in the past, including students who had never been introduced to agriculture or conservation before.
Even though Conservation Days was canceled this year, the SWCD is planning to schedule an in-person summer camp for the summer of 2021. In the meantime, the SWCD will continue to push forward with conservation education in creative ways to provide opportunities for the youth in Sierra County.
To learn more about the Friends of NACD District Grants Program, click here and please consider donating to enable future programs like the one above.