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Learning farm offers more than animals; new day camp starts this summer

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CANTON — Looking at barn animals is fun, but learning about farm life should be a much broader experience.

That’s the philosophy at St. Lawrence County’s Extension Learning Farm, Route 68.

Formerly known as the Discovery Center, the 130-acre learning farm is revamping its mission, consolidating office space and expanding connections with area colleges.

“We’re trying to make the entire facility more experiential,” said Patrick T. Ames, executive director of Cornell Cooperative Extension of St. Lawrence County. “We want this facility to be a community resource for agritourism and agriculture education. We’d like to target all age groups.”

Besides checking out a variety of farm animals, visitors now may see how grass and wood pellets provide a renewable energy source for the farm’s biofuel center.

A methane digester demonstrates how animal manure is converted into energy and heat. The farm houses a weather station and a high-tunnel structure where vegetables grow during the off-season and the summer.

“We’re looking at the entire farm as an educational opportunity,” Mr. Ames said.

New this year is a Farm Day Camp that will offer six weekly sessions, beginning July 2. Campers will try hands-on activities such as working with pigs, heifers, lambs, dairy calves, poultry, goats and sheep. They’ll help harvest vegetables and learn about healthy eating habits, food preparation and outdoor cooking.

“How many kids get the chance to pull eggs out of a layer’s nest?” Mr. Ames asked. “The camp is a new endeavor for us. It’s exciting.”

Archery, rocketry and outdoor skills such as using a global positioning system will be part of the fun. Visiting speakers will make presentations.

On Thursday, 29 kindergartners from the St. Regis Mohawk School in Hogansburg visited the farm. During their three-hour visit, the children had a chance to meet a 17-year-old Shetland pony named Dexter.

“He loves attention, and he loves children,” Cooperative Extension employee Anita M. Morrill said. “He also loves to eat. That’s why he’s a little heavy.”

Inside the large barn, community educator Amy L. Sands showed off baby lambs, chicks, pigs and cows.

Next, the group headed to the high-tunnel structure, where the children each planted his or her own bean or flower seed to take home. They learned about composting and how seeds germinate.

They also ate lunch in the farm’s classroom before boarding their yellow school bus for the trip back to Akwesasne. Youngsters from Potsdam Head Start, Potsdam Central’s prekindergarten classes and Gouverneur Head Start are due for visits this month.

By the end of June, the extension plans to move its administrative offices from the Kennedy Farm, also on Route 68, to the learning farm. Although the farm is open to school groups, it won’t reopen to the general public until construction workers finish renovating the office space. Guided tours can be set up by appointment.

The buildings and land previously used as extension office space at the Kennedy Farm will be leased by St. Lawrence University for its agricultural-based sustainability semester.

For more information about the learning farm or the Farm Day Camp, call Cornell Cooperative Extension of St. Lawrence County at 379-9192. Applications for camp are also available at: www.cceslc.com.

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