Farmer Erin’s Letter from Farm Camp

Our urban farm is abuzz with campers. Some are exploring fields and trees with Junior Counselor Josephine seeking flavor — herbs, edible flowers and berries — for the foraged breads they will make this afternoon. The “Sprouts” are feeding and caring for rabbits, chicks, horse, goats, pigs and kittens. The “Stalks” are creating a new paddock for White Sox and the goats, learning how to pound in T- posts and cement cedar posts. While another group learns how to build a raised vegetable garden bed, and still another bunch are intent on creating a beach under some trees. No one is ever bored on the farm.

Encouraging these suburban children to try and master new, unfamiliar tasks is one of my favorite aspects of our eight-year-old Farm Camp. Each week we take a group of children ages 5-15 and set the seeds for transformation. Never moved a chicken to a new pen? Here’s how. Don’t know how to cook a vegetable? You get to lead our daily Sun Oven Snack Squad. Should the farm adopt Muscovy ducklings from a farmer who is moving? Junior Counselors research this topic and present the pros/cons at Morning Meeting.

What began as a fairly simple idea — letting children take ownership of our organic farm — has blossomed thanks to contributions made by our partners. This week Artist Laura Greene showed us how to make art using vegetables. Last week Chris Mayor of Ravenswood Hand Forged showed us how to make and use knives. Next week Alison French, an award-winning beekeeper, may inspire campers to keep hives in their own yard. Showcasing the talents of friends and farmers is at the heart of New Farm Institute’s mission and is why this camp is a one-of-a-kind experience for all of us.

Despite excellent staff and months of planning, I never know what is going to happen each day. Sometimes campers are deliriously happy because they’re allowed to play wherever they choose. And sometimes serrendipitous connections are made. A scholarship student with a very troubled home life, for instance, has found a friend and role model in David, a man who patiently volunteers his carpentry and landscaping skills to us. Together, they repair rabbit cages, devise new construction while happily working together all day.

Tomorrow campers run our farm stand. They will set out luscious tomatoes, okra, potatoes, flowers, honey, eggs and more, while Community Relations Manger Carolyn discusses the importance of food justice before greeting new customers (from 10-3). Please join us!

………We’ve got room in camp and scholarships are greatly appreciated.

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