Sustainable Agriculture Summer Camp at Riveredge Nature Center

Final Report for YENC15-087

Project Type: Youth Educator
Funds awarded in 2015: $2,000.00
Projected End Date: 02/15/2017
Region: North Central
State: Wisconsin
Project Manager:
Sunny Knutson
Riveredge Nature Center
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Project Information



Sunny Knutson

P.O. Box 26

Newburg,   WI  53060

  • Phone: 262-416-1101
  • E-mail: [email protected]
  • Website:
  • Project Duration: March-August, 2015
  • Date of Report: January 30, 2017



The Sustainable Agriculture Summer Camp at Riveredge Nature Center immersed a group of fifteen school-age children in the practical aspects of sustainable food production through a wide variety of hands-on, educational experiences.  The camp was developed and led by Jayne Henderson, a Riveredge Environmental Educator, and Keith Hiestand, the Woodland Harvest/Garden Manager at Riveredge.

The first day of camp took place at the Woodland Harvest site, where youth were introduced to both the concept of and a real-world example of permaculture.  Through an interactive quest, the youth learned about the nut trees, fruit trees and companion perennials that are planted in a way that mimics the structure, energy flow and nutrient cycling of our regional woodlands.  Along the way, they tasted a variety of fruits, nuts and seasonal vegetables; met the chickens and turkeys raised there; discovered how the swales help to disperse water across the slopes, slowing its movement and lessening runoff; visited the hoop house and learned how farmers use it to extend the growing season. They learned how Woodland Harvest is an agriculturally productive, stable and resilient ecosystem requiring minimal human intervention that produces annual harvests of healthful foods while building soil fertility.

The next day was spent in the Children’s Organic Garden at Riveredge where youth gained hands-on experience growing vegetables.  The day’s activities included planting, tending, harvesting and cooking a variety of vegetables. They spent time in the compost demonstration area and were introduced to a worm bin to learn about the importance of composting and vermicomposting and discover the connection between healthy soil, nutritious vegetables and our health.

On day three, youth spent most of the day planting, tending and harvesting a wide variety of vegetables in the organic garden at Riveredge.  They visited the bee hives at Riveredge to learn about the important role pollinators play in growing crops.

On day four, youth spent the majority of the day tending and harvesting vegetables both at Woodland Harvest and the organic garden at Riveredge. The day culminated with a farmers market featuring the vegetables and fruits harvested by the youth. They created signs and displays to showcase the produce. Parents of the campers and Riveredge staff were invited, allowing the youth to gain experience in marketing produce.  They also had the opportunity to lead their family members on a garden tour, illustrating their new knowledge and enthusiasm for sustainable agriculture

On the last morning of camp, youth visited Wellspring CSA, a local certified organic farm whose mission is to inspire and teach people to grow, prepare and eat healthy food.  They met several farmers who discussed why they chose organic farming as a career and explained what they do on the farm over the course of the year. One of the farmers talked about his experiences at other organic farms he has worked on around the world as part of the WWOOF program. Youth participated in an in-depth tour of the farm, greenhouse and fields; tried seasonal fruits and vegetables; learned organic growing principles and what the farmers’ role is on the farm.  In addition, they had an opportunity to practice hands-on farming and gardening related activities under the guidance of Wellspring’s farmers. 

In the afternoon, youth visited the Dobberphul Organic Dairy Farm in the nearby town of Farmington to learn about sustainable dairy farming practices.  Stephanie Egner, Project Technician, CCA, TSP at the Washington County Land & Water Conservation Department accompanied the youth. She has worked closely with Tim Dobberphul over the years to help him implement the many changes he has made on his land to make his farming operation more sustainable. Tim explained how he treats waste and wastewater on his farm, described how his farm achieved organic certification and why it is important to him, showed the youth one of the pastures where his cattle graze, and explained what is involved in caring for a dairy herd throughout the year. During the two hours the youth spent at his farm, they gained a much better understanding about organic dairy farming and how soil, plants, and animals work together on a healthy farm.  They enjoyed the sample of organic milk Tim provided at the end of tour.


Before receiving this grant, we taught youth about sustainable agriculture on a limited basis at Riveredge. Our primary audience was lower elementary school-aged children from urban and suburban areas who attended a two hour school program called Garden Explorations. We utilized the Children’s Organic Garden at Riveredge to introduce youth to gardening and what is required to produce healthy food.  We did not utilize the Woodland Harvest Permaculture site very often during our programs. We would occasionally take our youth enrolled in our summer camp programs and Homeschool Ed-ventures program to Woodland Harvest, but we did not have a comprehensive curriculum that incorporated sustainable agriculture concepts.


The specific purpose for SARE grant funds was to develop new curriculum for Woodland Harvest: A Community Based Permaculture and Local Foods Project, located on acreage adjacent to Riveredge Nature Center. We piloted the new curriculum with youth enrolled in a week-long session of Sustainable Agriculture Summer Camp at Riveredge.

During the week, youth learned about sustainable farming methods through a variety of hands-on activities; visited a local CSA and met organic farmers; learned how to plant, care for and harvest vegetables in the organic garden at Riveredge; learned to cook seasonal vegetables; learned about composting, vermicomposting and soil health; and learned the important role pollinators play in growing crops during a visit to the bee hives at Riveredge.


 We designed the Sustainable Agriculture Summer Camp to align with Riveredge Nature Center’s educational philosophy. We believe that students should have the opportunity to experience and investigate the natural world under the guidance of environmental educators who serve as role models for the youth. We emphasize outdoor experience in all seasons, and the ‘Riveredge style’ is characterized by small group learning that encourages inquiry, exploration and problem solving. Through the process of hands-on inquiry, learners construct their own answers throughout our programs. Our goal is to help students understand our human connection the environment and how our actions can make a difference. We strive to engage learners of all ages through creativity, spontaneity and fun.


In order to meet our goals and objectives, Riveredge Environmental Educator, Jayne Henderson, spent a good deal of time planning the activities the youth would participate in throughout the week and consulted a variety of resources to develop curriculum for the Sustainable Agriculture Summer Camp. She worked closely with the Riveredge Woodland Harvest/Organic Garden Manager, Keith Hiestand, to create the permaculture quest the youth participated in on the first day of camp. She also consulted with him on which plant starts and seeds the campers would plant in the organic garden, and which fruits and vegetables would be ready to harvest during camp.

Jayne worked directly with the farm manager and program director at Wellspring CSA to coordinate the activities that took place at their site.  She worked closely with their staff to ensure the learning goals for the camp would be incorporated into the visit to their organic farm.

 Jayne also met with Tim Dobberphul, the farmer who led the tour of his organic dairy farm, during the planning phase to get ideas from him on how to best communicate the benefits of raising dairy cows in a sustainable way, and how this method of farming has had a positive impact on his land. She recruited Stephanie Egner, Project Technician, CCA, TSP at the Washington County Land & Water Conservation Department to accompany the youth on the tour of the Dobberphul farm. Stephanie provided more information about how she has worked with other farmers throughout Washington County to incorporate more sustainable agriculture practices into their farms.    

Finally, we consulted the book The Growing Classroom: Garden-Based Science by Roberta Jaffe and Gary Appel and the The National Gardening Association’s website to develop meaningful, hands-on, age appropriate activities that furthered the youth’s knowledge and understanding of the concepts we taught.


 During the Sustainable Agriculture Summer Camp, youth primarily learned about ecologically sound farming practices. They were introduced to the Woodland Harvest permaculture site at Riveredge, and learned more about the principles of permaculture. As they explored the site, they saw that nut trees, fruit trees and companion perennials are planted in a way that mimics the structure, energy flow and nutrient cycling of our regional woodlands.  They learned that this results in an agriculturally productive, stable and resilient ecosystem requiring minimal human intervention that produces annual harvests of healthful foods while building soil fertility.

Youth also learned about how to grow a variety of vegetables and perennial crops such as asparagus, gooseberries, currants, raspberries and herbs organically during the time they spent in the Children’s Organic Garden at Riveredge. They met farmers at Wellspring CSA who have dedicated their lives to sustainable agriculture. Tim Dobberphul explained the benefits of raising dairy cows in a sustainable way, and how this method of farming has had a positive impact on his land.

Our target audience for this program was school-aged youth who live within a 30-mile radius of Riveredge. Families that participated in the Sustainable Agriculture Summer Camp were asked to evaluate if the program met their expectations.  Criteria included satisfaction of the parent(s) with the program, their child’s interest in the topics we presented, the program instructors’ performance, and quality of the overall educational experience. As part of the evaluation, we asked parents to list their child’s favorite activities and make suggestions on how we can improve the camp in the future. We gathered the following quotes from each of the participants about what they liked/disliked about the experience:

  • “My daughter came home excited each day. She was very eager to show me what was harvested.”
  • “My daughter loved eating snacks from the garden.”
  • “We love Riveredge! Values and scope of education are in line with what we teach and value at home.”
  • “Our son gained skills and learned practical information he will use for life.”
  • “Counselors are friendly, knowledgeable, caring.”

Riveredge staff evaluated behavior and response of youth who participated in the Sustainable Agriculture Summer Camp as well as the time allocation and outcomes immediately following the program. Riveredge staff followed up with the farmers who helped to facilitate the program to evaluate the effectiveness of the program. We used all of this feedback to make improvements to the camp we offered in 2016.


Overall, we fell that this program was very successful.  It was well received by both the youth who participated as well as their families.  The overwhelmingly positive feedback we received reinforced this. In summer 2016, we incorporated more sustainable agriculture concepts into the sessions of garden-themed camps we offered.  This project also demonstrated that youth enjoyed learning about how they can care for the Earth by readily engaging in all of the activities we offered and asking lots of good questions about the concepts we presented.  The field trips to Wellspring CSA and Tim Dobberphul’s farm were very popular with the youth and their parents alike.  We offered field trips again during a sustainable agriculture-themed camp in summer 2016, including a tour of a local aquaponics farm.


We shared information about the Sustainable Agricultural Summer Camp in several ways. We posted pictures and shared quotes from the youth, educators, and farmers who participated in the Sustainable Agriculture Summer Camp on the Riveredge Nature Center website and Facebook page. We shared highlights from the program by writing a blog post and posting it on the Riveredge website. In addition, we wrote an article summarizing the things that we learned through this project that was featured in the Riveredge newsletter.  This was mailed to over 1,000 Riveredge members.

 Each year we invite all of the summer campers and their families to a special program at the end of the summer. The evening features a slideshow with photos of all of the camps we offer. We also share stories and memorable moments with the participants. On average, more than 150 people attend this program.  During this program, we shared the highlights of the Sustainable Agriculture Summer Camp.  Youth who participated in this program created a poster illustrating what they learned.  In addition, we featured photos of them participating in a wide variety of activities during camp in the slideshow.

Finally, Jayne Henderson gave a presentation that featured the Sustainable Agriculture Summer Camp at the Midwest Environmental Education Conference in Madison, Wisconsin on October 22, 2015. The session was attended by more than thirty environmental educators, teachers and other professionals in the field who are interested in offering programs with a similar theme.

The following are two ways we shared our project with members of Riveredge and the broader community.

Sustainable Agriculture Summer Camp:

Growing Healthy Food using Nature’s Principles (Blog Post on Riveredge Nature Center's Website)

By Jayne Henderson, Environmental Educator

What do you like best about gardens? Is it all the delicious fresh vegetables or spending time outside working with soil? The 8-11 year-old kids who attended the week-long Garden Wonders: Sustainable Agriculture Camp at Riveredge this summer enjoyed these things and so much more. They loved the seeing the changing colors, meeting the turkeys at Woodland Harvest, making soil, and discovering the joy of bartering with rutabagas! This Riveredge summer camp was supported by a grant from SARE (Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education), whose goal is to educate youth about sustainable agriculture. The generous support from SARE allowed us to enhance our curriculum and teach kids about sustainable, community-based agriculture through a variety of hands-on activities.

Over the course of the week, campers had a wonderful time learning all about gardening and how nature’s principles apply to growing food. They learned how to care for and harvest vegetables in Riveredge’s organic garden and Woodland Harvest permaculture site. They ate fruits, vegetables and nuts while learning about the benefits of permaculture during an interactive quest at Woodland Harvest. Campers discovered that permaculture, or permanent agriculture, is about the interconnected relationships between soils, plants, animals and people. The goal is to create systems that follow nature’s designs and are ecologically sound, economically viable, and sustainable in the long term. It utilizes the patterns and features from natural ecosystems such as the planting of woody plants and perennials instead of annuals; polycultures (a diversity of plants) versus monocultures; companion planting of trees with plants beneath to create vertical structures as seen in forests; and managing the land, soil and water to sustain plants, animals, people, and the Earth.

The kids also learned about the connection between healthy soil, healthy plants, nutritious vegetables, and our health. They examined and compared forest soils to garden soils, and created their own soil to plant a companion planting to take home. They learned about watersheds and how water affects agriculture and how agricultural practices impact water quality. At the end of the week, the campers had a wonderful time setting up and running their own farmers market. They learned how to harvest, clean, and present the vegetables they helped to grow and care for.

Another highlight of the week was a field trip to meet local organic farmers and hear why they chose organic farming as a career. Campers visited Wellspring CSA, a certified organic farm, whose mission is to inspire people to grow, prepare and eat healthy food, and Tim Dobberphul’s Organic Dairy Farm in the town of Farmington. At each stop, campers learned what farmers do on their farm over the course of the year. Overall, it was an amazing week full of tasty fresh food and fun; all while learning important lessons about how to grow the foods we eat in a sustainable way.

Riveredge Nature Center Wanderers Newsletter

Garden Wonders: Sustainable Agriculture Camp, July 20-24 (ages 8-11 years old)

We had a wonderful week exploring the garden, Woodland Harvest, forests, prairies, ponds, the river, visiting Wellspring CSA and an organic dairy farm. We discovered the true meaning of sustainable agriculture while experimenting with soil, planting seeds and plants, harvesting vegetables in the garden, and we learned how nature’s principles apply to growing food. We picked and ate fresh vegetables every day, some trying new foods for the first time. We made many discoveries throughout the week, including catching a snapping turtle, spiders, and green frogs. We examined forest soil to see what it is made of, figured out how it grows plants, and reported our findings to the group.

One of our favorite adventures was visiting the Woodland Harvest permaculture site. The food quest was fun, and everyone enjoyed petting the turkeys. We all enjoyed learning about the bees and how they play an important role in pollinating plants. After harvesting and preparing all the vegetables from the Children’s Organic Garden, we learned the fine art of bartering when we hosted a farmers market for our families. We went to Wellspring CSA, which has huge gardens and friendly farmers. We also went to an organic dairy farm where we learned about farm life from the farmer and his children. We even got to pet the calves! Garden Wonders was a fantastic week full of adventures, good veggies and fun with new friends!


Overall I had a positive experience with the NCR-SARE Youth Educator Grant program and I am grateful for the funding Riveredge Nature Center was awarded to support this project.

Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.