The best summer camps always have a waiting list. Rohe Farms in Syracuse, New York, is no exception. The farm serves as a hub of summertime activity that centers around teaching children about agriculture, animals and nature.
Each morning, about 50 children, ages 6 through 12, arrive at Rohe Farms ready for a fun day at camp. Some campers come for a week. Others attend all four, week-long sessions. For some it’s their first time. Others are veterans of the camp and training to become camp counselors themselves. Throughout their day at the farm, the campers rotate through a variety of activity stations in smaller groups.
The Family that Plays Together
Caitlin Rohe Eaton, a middle school science teacher, and her sister, Sarah Rohe, along with their mom, Trish Rohe, a preschool teacher, had the idea for sharing the family’s love for dairy farming through a summer day camp for kids. The farm’s been part of the Rohe family for four generations.
Once a dairy farm, now you’ll find only show cows and a variety of other animals – from goats to sheep and bunnies to chickens. There’s a learning garden, where Trish teaches the children about vegetables and the importance of pollination of crops by bees.
“We started the day camp in 2011 and it’s growing every year and it’s so much fun. The best part is we all get to work together – the siblings, and myself, and my mom,” says Trish.
Show ‘n Tell
As campers tour the barns at Rohe Farms and learn about the milk-making process, they have lots of questions. “Why cows look the way they look, what cows eat and how much do they eat. They ask about the fans in the barn and we explain that the fans keep the cows cool on hot summer days,” say Caitlin and Sarah.
Most of the kids at the camp have had “zero farm experience” and have never even seen a cow. At the camp, the kids get to be hands-on with the animals. “We get to show them what farming is all about,” says Sarah. The children particularly like to walk the cows and brush them.
During their time at camp, the kids see how well the cows are cared for. “They notice that there’s hay and grain always in front of the cows and they see how the cows always have water and hear the fans running in the barns,” says Caitlin.
The Campers & the Cows
The thought of being away at camp for the first time was a bit scary for 8-year-old Johanna. She’s since changed her mind. “This is fun!” she says, as she and her new friends pet and brush a cow. “The cows are really soft, really sweet and really gentle,” says Johanna, who already has thoughts of becoming a dairy farmer some day.
Twelve-year-old Na’deja thought it was cool that a cow’s eyes are “twice the size of ours” and was surprised at how much cows eat.
The idea that “you can make butter out of heavy cream and the heavy cream comes from cows” fascinated 9-year-old Clara. She said she’s going to try making her own butter at home.
Refueling with Chocolate Milk
While one group of campers is with the cows, another group spends time expending energy in play. The games are part of a lesson about the value of chocolate milk for nourishing the body after activity. Camp counselor Sarah Nekoski explains to the kids that it’s better to reach for a glass of chocolate milk than other sugary drinks.
“Chocolate milk has all the protein, calcium and sugar you need to help you gain back what you lose during a workout,” says Quinn, one of the campers. “It’s the right mix of stuff you need,” says Eli, another camper.
Nekoski hopes the kids remember what they’ve learned long after summer camp has ended.
The Great Escape
At the Escape Trailer, children learn about teamwork. They need to work together to unlock clues using their knowledge of dairy facts. From questions about how many times a day cows are milked (2!, but some dairy farms milk three times a day) to how many stomachs a cow has (4!) and how many of servings of dairy a day a person should have (3!) to what are the three main types of dairy (milk, cheese and yogurt!). Each correct answer brings them closer to ‘escaping’ the trailer.
The Future of Dairy: In the Hands of Children
It wouldn’t be summer camp without an ice cream break. The kids have time to chat with each other and with the farmers. The Rohe family loves the kids’ curiosity. They’re glad the kids are getting information first-hand from farmers.
“They have so many questions and they can’t wait to go home and tell everyone what they did at the farm and what they’ve learned. I really hope that these kids keep wanting to come back to learn more about what farmers do and how we run a farm, and then they’ll grow up having positive outlooks on the dairy industry and they are educated and they don’t believe the misconceptions out there. They’ve first-hand seen how a farm really runs,“ says Sarah.
“It’s my favorite camp I’ve been to!” said 10-year-old Kinley.