From llamas to NFL players, ‘Future Generations’ area has it all for the youth

Colleen Kottke
Wisconsin State Farmer
Wood County Farm Technology Days will be held July 10 - 12.

The Wood County Llama project and Wisconsin Rapids native and NFL player Vince Biegel will be among the attractions at the Land O Lakes Future Generations Tent at Wisconsin Farm Technology Days in July.

Once dubbed the Farm Technology Days youth tent, the new area hopes to accommodate visitors from infancy to young adulthood. Led by Kyli Brown and Mark Cournoyer, the committee will bring a wide range of activities to span the entire spectrum of youth interaction. 

“They all bring a different taste of what the future generations of Wood County looks like, and that is something that Mark and I, as co-chairs of this event, wanted to make sure we encompassed is programs for everybody from the littlest of youth all of the way up to looking for career choices as a young teenager,” said Brown. “We kind of split it up a little bit. I worked on coordinating some of the under 10 type of activities, and Mark is the FFA advisor at Auburndale (High School), and he has a real big hand in knowing what our older youth are looking for, as far as career choices. So, together, we collaborated really well on having a nice selection of activities, demonstrations, hands-on things that are going to meet the needs of all of our families in Central Wisconsin.”

“We are trying to make this for kids from toddlers through teens,” Cournoyer said. “One activity in that kids life – they get involved with that and they really remember that – that could be the thing that really changes their thought pattern, their thought process, their career plan; thinking that they want to do this, but then they tried this at Farm Tech Days and it sent them down a different path.”

Vince Biegel

Cranberries in his blood

A special guest slated to visit the Future Generations area on Thursday, July 12 is Green Bay Packer Vince Biegel.

A native of Wood County, Biegel grew up on a cranberry marsh near Wisconsin Rapids where he and his siblings are the fifth generation to have worked the farm.

“A lot of our Wisconsinites know Vince Biegel as a Green Bay Packer, but maybe what most didn’t know is that he grew up in the south part of Wood County at his family’s cranberry marsh," Brown said.

Biegel who credits much of his success in sports to the marsh, says his time on the family operation taught him the value of hard work. The Wisconsin Rapids native will share with visitors how farming and technology affected him and his family's cranberry marsh. 

"Looking back growing up where I did was the greatest blessing because working on the marsh is where I first learned about the importance of working hard," wrote Biegel on his blog Dempze Cranberry. "There’s nothing glamorous about a shovel and dirt, but what it taught me is if I can do this kind of labor it will set me up for the real world."

Biegel was drafted by the Packers in 2017 and is also a former standout for the Wisconsin Badgers. The linebacker will also sign autographs.

Wood County Youth Llama Project members (from left) Emily Bruhn, Brittany Bauer, Heidi Kudinger, Morgan Sachs, Michelle Kundinger are joined by Lulu the llama at Farm Technology Days Media Day in June. Members will be on hand in the Land O Lakes Future Generations tent to introduce their llamas to guests and answer questions.

Lots of llamas

In the span of just ten years, the Wood County Youth Llama Project has grown to become the biggest youth llama organization in the state.

Duane and Lisa Blanchard became involved in the project while their son was showing llamas at the fair. 

"We got started back in 2008, and the reason we did it was because Clay got into llamas through a friend," said Lisa Blanchard, who along with her husband, Duane, run the youth llama project from February through October each year. "We were approached by our judge that year to get a llama project going because there is more to llamas than just showing. You have the obstacle course, costume contest and all that stuff."

The program is open to 4-H and FFA members, and those who participate don't have to own their own llamas.

Participants start meeting about once a month in February, learning the history of llamas and developing an understanding of their anatomy and behavior. Around June, they start meeting once a week and will move out into the field where they'll start working personally with llamas, learning how to harness and handle them.

The Blanchards run the project in conjunction with the University of Wisconsin-Wood County Extension Office.

"We do it because we like it, and we are able to give that unique opportunity to the kids," Lisa said. "How many people can say they showed a llama at the fair? You can show cows, you can show pigs, and your lambs and sheep, but we're unique in that way."

Throughout Farm Technology Days, project members will be there every day with llamas said Youth Llama project and committee member, Michelle Kundinger.

“People can take pictures with them, pet them, greet them, learn about them," Kundinger said.

There's more to llamas than looking cute and producing sought after fiber, their waste products are useful in making plant fertilizer called "Llama Poo Tea."

Heidi Kudinger says visitors will be encouraged to make a wet-felted soap bar.

"We will show people that you can take llama fiber and wrap it around this bar of soap, and when you put the soap in warm water, the fiber helps spread it around," she said.

Most interesting is the recipe for llama "Poo Tea" in which the main ingredient is "llama beans".

"To make this fertilizer for plants, we take the dried llama poop "llama beans" and dry them and crush them, then adding one cup of that to a gallon of water," said Brittany Bauer. "We'll have some samples to give out for people that are interested."

In addition to hawking llama beans, project members will be leading llamas through obstacle courses and fielding questions from visitors.

Four areas of interest

The Future Generations area is broken down into four main areas: STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) programming, natural resources, agriculture, and healthy living. All vendors, hand-on activities, and performers fall under these areas.

“We are on the far eastern edge of the main drag – if you want to call it that,” Mark said. “We are about 200 feet from an entrance, where buses will be able to drop you off for day cares and any other school groups that want to come in. You can keep them in our area. We are a fenced off area, so it is easy to keep track of the kids and then, as well, exiting them as they leave. We’ve made accommodations for if they bring their own pack lunches and things like that in.”