The sun's bright reflection rippled on the pond at Lincoln University's Alan T. Busby Agriculture Farm as laughing children jumped in and swam while others caught crawfish on a cool Tuesday morning.
"The kids out here are actually harvesting from what is now a fishery," said Jim Wetzel, doctor of aquaculture for the university. "You can't beat the hands-on experience these guys are getting. These guys are developing confidence by getting in the water and handling animals in mass and seeing things that very few people, even people from farming backgrounds, get to see, and they are having fun in the process."
Around 20 children were on the pond, taking turns operating a large net called a seine to catch the freshwater crustaceans. Some were refusing to get in the water, but still helping sort the catch by size and getting them ready for transport to the Lorenzo Greene Hall of the university. They were accompanied by Wetzel, some of his students and technicians, and Natalie Benjamin, of the Sprouts and Roots Summer Camp.
"Dr. Wetzel has very kindly given us a day for my Sprouts and Roots Camp to learn about an ancient fishing technique using seine nets," Benjamin said. "We are trying to catch as many crayfish as we can so that we can cook these fish later back on campus. It is quite an opportunity for the kids, they are team building, they are learning, they are outside in nature, they are having a swim. It is a good morning for them."
The summer program was started about three years ago by Nadia Navarrete-Tindall as a part of the university's coop extension offices.
One child would use snorkel gear to spot groups of crawfish in the pond and then the others would use the seine to trap them. The net works as a portable wall that the campers would partially enclose the mudbugs in before scooping them.
The university ran a similar program for the past couple years, but none on the scale of the current one, Wetzel said. He said he also hosted high school teachers and taught them how to determine the gender of the pond's creatures. He is trying to file a grant to help stock the pond with fish to accompany the tadpoles, frogs and craw-daddies.
The students and technicians who work the pond try to do everything naturally and organic, in other words they use no chemicals for their crops, Wetzel said. The pond is used as an aquaculture center as well as an irrigation source that is powered by a solar-powered pump.
"I just ran and jumped right in, I just wanted to get in there and catch some crawfish," said Gabriel Schieferdecker, a young child who was first to get in the water. "It was fun catching crawfish and getting up on that net. I got pinched a couple times ... it hurt, but I am not going to die or nothing. It might hurt for a minute, but it is still fun."
Schieferdecker said that working the seine was tricky for him because he doesn't "weigh as much as a grown man." The net is worked by two people and the older, larger student on the other side tended to pull him through the water as they attempted to straighten the net, he said.
When the students got back on campus, they helped process their catch to make four dishes: Ã©touffÃ©e, gumbo, boiled crayfish and a spaghetti sauce.
"We work with the kids, cooking and preparing the meals, and they learn a little bit about nutrition and about what they are eating today," said Veronica Taylor, a nutritionist who has worked with the program for four years and the university for 35. "I think that since we got it (the catch) on our farm, it was good for the kids to experience catching them. And the process of preparing them and eating what they prepared and caught is a learning tool by itself."
A few of the children had never had the dishes that they were preparing, let alone dishes with the creatures they were catching. Even less of the group refused to get in the pond, but they were all excited about the food it seemed.