LAKE PARK -- Farming is a way of life that has been around almost as long as humans have populated the earth. Yet for many kids who grow up in the city, a visit to the farm is as foreign as traveling to another country.
"Many of our kids have never even been to a farm," said Stephanie Baker, coordinator for the Lakes Area Kinship program.
Operated by the Lakes Crisis & Resource Center in Detroit Lakes, Kinship is a mentoring program that consists of one adult volunteer over the age of 18 who, a couple of times a month or more, volunteers to spend time with a child in the lakes area between the ages of 5 and 16, engaging in fun activities together.
This past spring, Kinship began partnering with Becker County 4-H to introduce some of the Kinship kids (and in some cases, their mentors as well) to 4-H and its wide variety of youth programming. The partnership became known as the 4-H Kinship Club.
"Kinship and 4-H have similar goals when it comes to youth and adult interaction," explained Becker County 4-H Coordinator Gina Schauer, who first approached Baker earlier this year about forming a partnership between their two programs.
As part of this partnership, the kids in the 4-H Kinship Club were asked to join 4-H as well, she added.
The group meets once a month for a 4-H oriented activity, Baker said. "We've met three times so far," she added. "We're still getting to know each other."
This month, the club's group activity was a visit to Schauer's rural Lake Park farm, where she and her husband Travis, along with their children, gave the Kinship kids and their mentors a tour while teaching them about various aspects of farm life — and safety.
Before they went to visit the animal barns, Schauer warned the group that they should approach the animals carefully, even if they look harmless.
"Don't sneak up behind any animals — especially the horses," she cautioned, adding that horses have been known to kick out when frightened, and can cause serious injuries when they do.
Schauer also cautioned against approaching the large turkey wandering around the farm, noting that while she didn't really expect it to attack if approached by strangers, it was better to be safe than sorry.
Over the course of the next couple of hours, the children learned how to lead a sheep around on a leash, feed a calf with an oversized (by human standards) baby bottle, sheer a sheep, and pet a variety of lambs, goats, chickens, rabbits and more.
They wrapped up the evening with some Barnyard Olympics, in which the Kinship kids took on their mentors in a series of farm-oriented games like a water bucket carrying challenge, vaulting over hurdles made of hay bales, and carrying an egg on a spoon while racing across the lawn — slowly. They also took turns on the rope swing that hung from one of the trees in the Schauers' front yard.
After they were finished, the kids enjoyed some healthy snacks and a drink before heading back home with their mentors.
"Next month's activity will be a visit to the county fair," said Schauer, adding that it will provide an opportunity for the kids to learn what 4-H is really all about, as many of their programs culminate in exhibiting at the fair each year. The 2019 Becker County Fair runs Aug. 7-10 at the fairgrounds in Detroit Lakes.
Ultimately, she said, they hope to see some of the Kinship kids exhibiting at the fair next year, and getting involved in a variety of 4-H programs.
Baker also noted that the Lakes Area Kinship program is always in need of new adult mentors. Mentors can be anyone over the age of 18 who is willing to spend at least a couple of days per month engaging their mentees in fun activities that can include anything from watching a movie together to volunteering at the local animal shelter.
"We currently have 16 kids on our waiting list," she said, adding, "They're waiting to be able to do fun things like this."
For more information about getting involved with Lakes Area Kinship, prospective adult mentors can call 218-847-8572 or visit the website, lakescrisis.com/programs/kinship.
For more information about Becker County 4-H and its various youth programs, call the University of Minnesota Extension office in Detroit Lakes at 218-846-7328, or visit the Becker County 4-H Facebook page at www.facebook.com/BeckerCounty4H.