North Dakota Farmers Union (NDFU) Camp invokes memories for many North Dakotans. It’s a tradition in many families, for rural and urban dwellers alike. For nearly 90 years, North Dakota kids have attended Farmers Union Camp.

In 1934, the first youth camp was held at Camp Rokiwan on the shores of Spiritwood Lake. Campers attended the four- and five-day camps at many locations over the years – Mouse River Farmers Union Camp in Velva, Grand Rapids, Lake Tobiason, Wesley Acres in Barnes County and Heart Butte on Lake Tschida. In July, the first campers arrived at NDFU’s newest camping facility on the Jamestown Reservoir, James River Farmers Union Camp, just 12 miles from where it all began.

The first camp at the newest North Dakota Farmers Union Camp facility, James River Farmers Union Camp, was held in July on the 19-acre property on the Jamestown Reservoir. Photos courtesy Chris Aarhus/NDFU
Photo Courtesy Dana Sullivan/NDFU

“This facility gives our summer camp program a physical presence in the eastern part of the state and complements our camp facility in western North Dakota on the Heart Butte Reservoir,” says NDFU President Mark Watne. “We are excited for all the cooperative learning and fun kids will have here. Investing in youth education is the greatest asset of our state and organization.”

Situated on 19 acres, the facility features a state-of-the-art lodge with indoor gymnasium, STEM classroom, game room and co-op store. The property also includes a dormitory, boathouse, outdoor volleyball court and softball field.

More than 1,200 kids in grades 3-12 attend Farmers Union Camp each summer, where cooperative and leadership skills development are hallmarks of the camping program.

“This facility is really invested in the education that we do in cooperatives – teaching young people about what a cooperative is, how it functions and how it operates,” says Pam Musland, NDFU communications director.

Attendees at both the junior and senior camp levels organize a cooperative store, which sells drinks, snacks and merchandise. Campers elect a board of directors, sell membership shares and hire a store manager. At a banquet on the final night, campers conduct an annual meeting, dissolve the cooperative and select a community organization to donate the cooperative’s earnings.

“They’re learning, and it’s important, especially for what cooperatives mean to our state and what they’ve done in our state,” Musland says.

In addition to NDFU’s investment in the project, numerous cooperatives donated to the new camp facility, including the North Dakota Association of Rural Electric Cooperatives (NDAREC). Many of NDAREC’s member cooperatives also provided additional sponsorship.

“The facility that we’ve built wouldn’t be possible without the partnership of other cooperatives, our co-op brothers and sisters,” Musland says.

“North Dakota’s electric cooperatives are happy to provide support for this great investment in North Dakota youth, who truly are the future of our cooperatives and communities,” says Josh Kramer, NDAREC executive vice president and general manager. “As a product of Farmers Union Camp myself, I can attest to the leadership skills and cooperative education that is taught through the Farmers Union camping program. Farmers Union Camp provides a way to engage youth in a fun atmosphere that builds those vital, sustaining co-op connections in our communities, our cooperative network and our state.”

At the final campfire of each camp, counselors put on skits and campers join in song. “Linger” is traditionally sung, as campers prepare to return home the next day. The last verse illustrates the lasting connections made at Farmers Union Camp – connections that grow as kids become adults, serve their communities and participate in their cooperatives.

Mmm hmm, and as the years go by
Mmm hmm, I’ll think of you and sigh
Mmm hmm, this is goodnight and not goodbye.

Mmm hmm, I like to linger
Mmm hmm, a little longer
Mmm hmm, a little longer here with you.

Cally Peterson is editor of North Dakota Living. She can be reached at

More than 1,200 youth participate in North Dakota Farmers Union’s cooperative-focused leadership camps annually. Camps are held at two different sites, one near Elgin and a new location in Jamestown.
North Dakota Farmers Union provides trained counselors who encourage campers to develop positive and constructive attitudes about their own capabilities through cooperation, teamwork and leadership. NDFU’s camping program and activities are designed to highlight the individuality in all youth. Transportation to and from camp is provided by NDFU where feasible.
Activities include water games, four-square, skits, sports, campfires, a talent show, banquet, camp project, singing, crafts and more.
•    Junior Camp
     - 4-day, 3-night camps for completed grades 3-6
     - Camp fee: $149
•    Senior Camp
     - 5-day, 4-night camps for completed grades 7-12
     - Camp fee: $199 n