Wednesday, September 6 the Niobrara Conservation District celebrated the end of summer with a picnic at their new facility located in the Business Park on the southern side of Lusk. The event was a double party acting as both the final activity for the Niobrara Conservation District summer program and counting as an “elected official event”—the conservation district is required to have so many—to keep certain funding. Per Lisa Shaw of the Niobrara Conservation District, invitations went out to all the local elected officials and the local area senators and representatives. The true guests of honor, however, were the participants of the summer program who have worked the past few months to grow various fruits and vegetables of which the entire picnic—minus the hamburgers, hot dogs, and one onion—was comprised of; “all the children and their entire families were invited” says Shaw.
Per Shaw, it is interesting how many kids don’t know exactly where their food comes from. Shaw explains that once upon a time, she had a game that she would do with fifth graders including stickers of various produce and buckets with different labels of where the produce may have come from. For example: store, farmer, rancher, seed, and so forth. Students were asked to place the stickers in the buckets that they thought the items came from, “You would be surprised how many kids don’t know where their food has come from” comments Shaw, adding that many of the students would place their produce stickers in the bucket simply labeled ‘store’.
The program, which began in March of last spring, met every two weeks since to discuss and learn about wildlife, seeds, plants, and how to plant and maintain a garden. “It was great, we really enjoyed the kids. We had a pretty big age group so that was interesting to deal with in both ways with kids that would help [younger] kids, but you had to make sure you had a couple adults as well” comments Heidi Sturman, the other half of the duo making up the Niobrara Conservation District. One of those kids Sturman refers to is Abby Sampers whose favorite part of the program was “the skink” a small animal the class found and created a habitat for, keeping as a ‘class pet’ until the end of the summer when they released him. Abby also came to the garden over the course of the summer with her dad to pick lettuce. “All summer they’ve [kids] been coming by to get what the garden had produced. Everything but the onion in the salad was in some way grown in their garden” tells Shaw.
Roughly thirty-four people signed up to attend the barbecue and partake in the kids’ hard work. While their garden produce supplemented the meal, their flowers acted as easy decorations; as early guests arrived, they finished cutting flowers they had grown to use as table center pieces. JayVis Boldon was another active member in the program and the flowers were right up his alley since his favorite part was “planting plants”, with, in particular, the snap dragons being his favorite.
Of the entire program, Shaw states, “My hope is they [kids] can someday grow food. Even if they’re destitute, they can still sustain in their own”.