Tilling it like it is

Farm and garden camps inspire healthy, active lifestyles and an appreciation for nature

Outdoor camps give kids hands-on experience with gardening by planting seeds and harvesting the fruit, or in this case basil, of their labor.
Julia Vandenoever

The word “outdoors” immediately comes to mind when one mentions camps. Most camp programs highlight outdoor adventures like horseback riding, sports and outdoor games. Farming and garden camps, however, get kids involved in the great outdoors in a very different way.

Teaching kids about farming and gardening has become increasingly important in light of recent efforts to conserve various agricultural practices. Schools have implemented agriculture education into curiculum like the national Agriculture in the Classroom program. These state-operated programs are meant to “cultivate an understanding and appreciation of the food and fiber system that we all rely on every day,” according to their website.

School programs are not the only means of education. Many local farms offer summer programs, an experience they hope will expand the horizons of children that don’t often find opportunities to make it outside for longer periods of time. Annie Sweeney, program director of the Children’s Peace Garden, says these programs are meant to introduce kids to a more natural lifestyle.

“We want to get kids outside and give them lots of hands-on experience in the garden,” Sweeney says. The program is, at its heart, meant to “expand [the kids’] experiences a little bit.” To do this, the farm collaborates with the rest of the neighborhood, effectively teaching the children about community as well as gardening.

And at the Children’s Peace Garden summer camp, enrolled campers get to learn about bird flight patterns, insects, butterflies and bees.

When the children don their protective beekeeping gear, they look like “little Martian men,” Sweeney says. The experiences are meant to be entirely immersive and to provide an opportunity for children to work, as a team, on the farm.

The camp focuses on providing unique programs for different age groups. Though the programs vary, the heart of each is still the same: Kids learn about animals and get to interact with them. They will be able to harvest vegetables in the garden they will later make into food.

WEB Outdoor_PeaceGardenGirlsCarrots2014
Julia Vandenoever

Unique to the Children’s Peace Garden is the Cultiva Youth Project. Participants are anywhere from ages 12 to 19 and work to nurture, harvest and finally share their produce on the market. Some of the youth leaders on the farm volunteer to be assistant instructors in the summer camps.

Anne Cure, owner and program head for Cure Organic Farm, another local farm offering summer camp programs, echoes the importance of children learning about farms from actual experience.

“It’s a complete immersion. Kids get to be a farm kid for a week,” Cure says. “Getting kids to do that early hopefully will continue to grow more gardeners as life goes on. Hopefully, it will be a lifelong skill, passion or hobby that more people will have.”

The farming experience, according to Cure, is not just important because it inspires children to become immersed in the natural world and the processes that feed them, but also because it teaches them valuable things about the environment from a young age.

Its most unique feature, Cure says, is that children get to experience the farm in its entirety for their visits over the summer.

“A lot of kids might not have any experience on a farm, other kids may have, but regardless they get to come and live the life of being on a farm,” Cure says. “That includes collecting eggs, feeding chickens, planting gardens and harvesting food. They really get to dive right in and be a part of whatever is happening in the ecosystem that week.”

Cure says kids love chickens and their eggs. Beyond that, however, they like seeing the fruits of their labor.

“One of the other things the kids absolutely love is working right alongside the farmers out on the big field and then seeing the food that they helped pick,” she says.

The children go to the Saturday farmers’ market and are able to proudly point out the cherry tomatoes they picked only days prior.

“It’s very gratifying to see that work that they did going to help another family by providing food for them,” Cure says.

These camps strive to prove farm work is as enlightening as it is fun. So this year, consider giving your kid a fresh outdoor experience at a local farm camp.

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