Boonie hats replace seed corn caps More than 200 farmers toured the Southeast South Dakota Experiment Farm July 15 looking like they had just stepped out of Operation Desert Storm.
The tan "boonie hats" they wore that day and took home with them afterward, were not part of a military operation, rather "Operation Hat Check" a hat-for-cap exchange designed to build awareness of sun safety and prevent skin cancer.
This educational campaign directed at farmers was sponsored by the S.D. Soybean Research and Promotion Council and County Extension educators of South Dakota State University.
They set up in a machine shed at this research farm managed by South Dakota State University and exchanged more than 200 hats for traditional "seed corn" type caps that afford less protection from the sun.
This South Dakota event was patterned after Operation Hat Check (TM), a program originally conceived by the National Farm Medicine Center, Marshfield, WI.
A part of the South Dakota hat exchange included a voluntary black-light examination for sun-related deterioration of skin with a device called Dermascan. Dermascan helps people look at several layers of skin all at once.
Volunteers also distributed tubes of soybean-oil-based sunscreen donated by the Soybean Council, and fact sheets on sun safety from the Iowa State University Extension Service and the National Farm Medicine Center.
The American Cancer Society estimates that 900 new cases of the more curable forms of skin cancer are diagnosed each year. Melanoma, the most serious and life threatening skin cancer is around 40,000 each year, with 7,300 cases resulting in death. Skin cancer has increased at a rate of 4 percent each year since 1973.
Craig Rosenberg, Minnehaha County ag educator, explained how the Sun Smart and hat-exchange program evolved in South Dakota.
Sandra Aamlid, Extension family and consumer science educator from Minnehaha County, brought home an idea from Minnesota where she saw "Dermascan" equipment used as a part of a "Sun Smart" skin safety awareness program.
Last year, she brought the program to South Dakota to raise awareness on how much damage sun exposure can do to the skin and to try to alter behavior so people would be more willing to use sunscreen in the peak hours of the day.
The Dermascan machine uses a black light with an enlarging mirror to highlight freckles and skin damage. The view gives an idea of where the injuries occur, typically on the nose, top of ears, and over cheekbones.
The Soybean Council became a funding partner with county Extension educators early in this sun safety venture, and purchased the first three Dermascan machines for the state.
Aamlid also learned of a hat exchange program in Wisconsin and Minnesota which exchanged hats for caps that gave only minimal protection from the sun.
As they conducted sun safety programs in South Dakota, Extension educators administered surveys to see which of a variety of hat designs South Dakotans might be willing to wear for sun safety. Most favored in these surveys was the "boonie hat" style.
Extension educators took the idea to the Soybean Council last spring. The Soybean Council has a sun screen product, SPF15, which contains vitamin E made from soy oil. Since Rosenberg has been sunburned on field tours, he thought handing out sunscreen samples might be a good idea on a tours of SDSU research farms.
With a go-ahead from the Soybean Council, the group of educators ordered hats from Gempler's, Belleville, WI, a mail order and on-line equipment supplier for farmers, horticulturists, construction and others working outdoors.
The Southeast S.D. Experiment Farm summer tour near Beresford presented itself with about the right amount of people for the number of hats affordable.
"The Soy Council provided the funds, and we took some ideas working well in other states and adapted them so we could use them here," Rosenberg explained.
"The program has been very popular," said Rosenberg. "People go to these events, and the booth with the most people gathered around it is the Sun Smart booth. Often the lines waiting to get to these machines were long, but people waited patiently because the information they were receiving was valuable to them."
Operating the booth here were Cheryl Jacobs and John Gille, Union County educators; Virginia Delvaux, Clay County educator; Sandra Aamlid, Craig Rosenberg, Michelle Tilberg, and Judy Johnson, all Minnehaha County educators; Sharon Guthmiller, Yankton County educator; Lavonne Meyer, Turner County educator; Betty Fyler and Betty Hansen, S.D. Soybean Council.