We’ve all seen the memes of a sign outside of a subdivision saying “We miss cows” or the one that says “Back in my day, this was all orange groves”. In Central Florida, we are losing land each day to suburban sprawl. So, when thinking about the theme for this year’s Homer and Annette Thompson Summer Ag Camp (a.k.a Camp ROAR) conservation and how the ag industry plays a role in it came to mind!

This summer, 55 campers spent June 25-28 learning about ways Florida farmers and ranchers work to keep “Ole Florida” and preserve our way of life . . . all while having a little fun too! To better learn about conservation and ways each of us can play a part in it, the staff designated times during camp for films, lectures, tours, and projects.

Campers watched Calton Ward’s documentary Path of the Panther which highlights the ecological battle happening across the globe and in the Everglades. They heard from guest speakers Tricia Martin, Matt Pearce, Blair Updike, and Travis Thompson who all shared their testimonies and why they care to conserve our sunshine state. The speakers also encouraged campers to use their platforms and be a voice for the industry. Matt Pearce shared how important it is to his family to “open the gate” and invite others to their ranch so that they can educate about the cattle industry and ways they work to preserve the land.

Campers took to learning on the road many times as well. From airboat tours of Brama Island thanks to Grape Hammock Airboat Tours to nature hikes to prescribed burns with the Florida Forestry Department and even visiting Noah Handley and Nick Swain at Lykes Brothers to learn about their water storage and treatment project. Campers even got to dissect owl pellets while learning about endangered species in the state!

Aside from all the learning, the camp was full of time for team building and personal growth! It wouldn’t be a Camp ROAR without an evening of intense Kiddie Pool Kickball or an obstacle course to end the week with. This year everyone was able to enjoy making tie-dyed t-shirts and having fun on a mega water slide! By the end of camp, all campers and staff were ready for a nap!

Camp ROAR 2023 had the most significant number of campers to date plus a waiting list! Thanks to the benevolence of Homer and Annette Thompson, we are able to plan this summer camp each year to encourage students to grow in the ag industry and find their future careers all while offering it at a low rate. The Camp ROAR staff is already looking forward to summer 2024-mark your calendars for June 23-26! See you then!