Imagine going to an agriculturally-themed summer camp where you got to see and taste protein bars, puffed cereal, ice cream and cheese being made at an industrial grade facility; did experiments where you pulled iron out of fortified breakfast cereal; extracted and sequenced DNA from your food; used a supercomputer to decipher that DNA; simulate a wheat breeding experiment and identify diseased plants in the field; stick your arm inside a dairy cow’s stomach, and lead your own dairy calf in a field by the barns! Wow, that’s a lot to experience in one week. But that’s precisely what 15 brave, inquisitive and incredibly bright 11, 12 and 13-year olds did at the inaugural launch of the ‘Food, Agriculture and U’ summer science camp, held in collaboration with the University of Minnesota’s Youth Programs June 24-28, 2024.

 

The camp was initially conceived by Kevin Silverstein at the Minnesota Supercomputing Institute and at GEMS Informatics, George Annor at the CFANS Department of Food Science and Nutrition, and Getiria Onsongo, at Macalester College and GEMS. But they soon found that people from all over the University loved the idea and joined the effort, volunteering their time. In all, more than 25 professionals ended up making significant contributions to the camp, nearly all interacting directly with the kids on one or more of the 5 days. Special thanks to co-organizing leaders Shea Anderson and Daryl Gohl at the UMGC, Emily Conley and Becca Hall at Agronomy & Plant Genetics and Plant Pathology, and Tony Seykora and Isaac Salfer in Animal Science for their extensive planning and staff recruitment.

 

In recruiting students for the camp, significant effort was made to reach the Native American community. An outstanding liaison at each of two institutions, Migizi in Minneapolis and the American Indian Magnet School in St. Paul, helped us recruit students that normally miss out on these opportunities. We also attended two powwows and appealed to families there directly.

 

Corporate sponsors were also amenable to the concept. We are very grateful for contributions from PepsiCo, Cargill, and Fairbault Foods for allowing us to provide a free camp experience for 6 of our 15 students. And they also allowed us to purchase healthy snacks (which the kids greatly appreciated and kept talking about) for all participants each day. Thanks also go to NSF and ACCESS for an allocation that enabled the students to decode their DNA sequence on the Nations' supercomputing infrastructure, and to the Digital Science Initiative for helping us to manage donations. 

 

Please check out the gallery which has 4 photos from each day, highlighting the diversity of activities. Miraculously, even though this was the first time giving this camp, all 5 days went forward smoothly and were a great hit. There are a few tweaks to make next year for sure, but the response was overwhelmingly positive and we are all delighted!

Day 1

Exploring Food Science and Nutrition

Camp students in Food Science Lab
Camp students in Food Science Lab
Camp students in Food Science Lab
Camp students in Food Science Lab

Day 2

DNA sequencing, extraction and mutants

plant DNA extraction in a lab
students looking at plant DNA properties
camp students reviewing optogenetics
plant DNA extraction in a lab

Day 3

Linking ag data via supercomputers

computer exercise
students touring the Minnesota Supercomputer
database review
students in conference room

Day 4

Visiting agricultural fields on campus with breeders and plant doctors

student wheat threshing
students in farm field
students in a field
students in a field

Day 5

Out in the barns with the dairy cattle

 

student walking a dairy calf

 

students with animal feed
group of students walking a dairy calf
student with dairy cow