Organic Farm to Summer Camp Table: Opportunities for Youth on an Organic Farm

Project Overview

YENC12-053
Project Type: Youth Educator
Funds awarded in 2012: $2,000.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2013
Region: North Central
State: Missouri
Project Manager:
Rachel Levi
EarthDance

Annual Reports

Information Products

Commodities

Not commodity specific

Practices

  • Education and Training: youth education
  • Production Systems: organic agriculture

    Abstract:

    In June of 2012, EarthDance, a nonprofit Organic Farm School, hosted a week-long session of Camp EarthDance.  This farm-to-table summer camp for middle school students would include hands-on lessons about organic farming as well as a culinary component.  EarthDance’s goals for the camp included: educating campers about the purpose and practice of organic agriculture; encouraging campers to take action about sustainable agriculture, whether by choosing organic ingredients, growing some of their own food, or even considering a career in sustainable agriculture. Providing students with nutrition and culinary education was a secondary goal of the camp. Campers assisted in the preparation of meals that included freshly harvested produce, and learned why a local, plant-based diet is healthy and environmentally responsible.

     

    To promote the camp, EarthDance engaged in to the following communication strategies: printing 2000 post-cards, which were mailed to selected teachers at local middle schools and distributed at several public events, including two well-attended Earth Day celebrations and a nearby district-wide science fair; issuing a press release that was picked up by several local print and web publications; emailing our entire subscriber list of over 3000 people; frequent postings to our social media outlets; in-person outreach to several hundred students at nearby Ferguson Middle School and Grand Center Arts Academy; posting flyers at numerous public locations, such as libraries and grocery stores; and reaching out to other community organizations that serve youth.

    The audience for our project was middle school students (children entering the 6th, 7th, or 8th grades, or home schooling equivalent). EarthDance expected to primarily recruit its campers from nearby Ferguson Middle School, where 58% of students receive free or reduced price lunches. The age demographic was chosen due to the fact that EarthDance has numerous connections with Ferguson Middle School, a location with a home economics lab, a school garden, and faculty members that wished to support the project.

    In June of 2012 EarthDance hosted Camp EarthDance. Counter to the perception that adolescents prefer texting and video games to farm work, and junk food to healthy eating, most of the sixteen junior farmers of Camp EarthDance 2012 were enthusiastic about all of the week’s activities. The project activities were as follows: each day, the campers met at Ferguson Middle, where the group boarded the Jolly Trolley, courtesy of the city of Ferguson. The bus took campers to EarthDance at the Mueller Farm. At the farm, the students took field walks to observe the crops and wildlife. Other activities included a scavenger hunt to find different aspects of the farm’s ecosystem; a few rounds of the game “nutrient cycle freeze-tag” to better understand the process by which decomposer organisms help build healthy soil; and role-playing a mock farmers market. EarthDance staff also taught the campers how to use hula hoes to weed a bed of beans, carefully transplant scallion seedlings from trays to the earth, and how to harvest delicate Tavera green beans for market.

    When campers returned to Ferguson Middle, Ferguson Middle’s Home Ec. instructor, as well as two of the interns (both graduates of a local dietetics program) oversaw lunch preparations. Highlights of the week’s meals included cous-cous cakes, fruit salad with (camper-made) poppy-seed dressing, and personal pizzas with farm-fresh toppings. After meal time, Jennifer, one of the dieticians, led several lessons related to healthy choices; campers discussed nutrition labels and “traffic light eating” (so-called “red-light” foods, like French fries and sodas should cause us to stop and think, perhaps making a healthier choice or selecting a small portion, while green-light selections, like colorful veggies and fruits are “go for it” foods.)

    Each day ended with a physical activity. Swimming, yoga, and hula-hoop fitness gave our campers the opportunity to relax and have fun—which definitely helped as the students processed new ideas, tastes, experiences and friendships. To close the week of fun and discovery, the campers of Camp EarthDance wrote a letter to a friend, reflecting on their experiences. Here are a few excerpts from the campers letters:

    “Hey Lyle, What’s up man? So Camp EarthDance? Amazing! I loved harvesting the green beans. Then we can’t forget the pizza . . . yummy!- Kate Scheffing, age 13

    “Camp EarthDance is a lot more fun than it looks on the outside. You’ll doTONS of things on the farm (hands-on) and try some new foods. You’ll learn how to eat healthier and even meet a certain farm dog named Petey . . .” -Jesse Lovejoy, 13

    “You need to come here, this is sooo cool. Please come it is awesome you would love to do the whole organic farming week. PLEASE COME!”-Gloria Helt, 11

    “Dear Kelly, This camp is amazing, we learned a lot! We harvested food in the fields, did crafts, and made really good lunches.”-Sophie Orlando 13

    In addition to this qualitative assessment, we measured the results of the camp through pre- and post assessments, in which campers self-reported their knowledge about organic farming, as well as their comfort and interest in cooking healthy meals. EarthDance staff were surprised by how knowledgeable the students were upon entering the camp. About 2/3 had previously visited a farm, and more than 75% of the students said they knew what organic farming is. By the end of the week, 100% of the students had spent time on an organic farm, knew what a beneficial insect does, and why healthy soil is important for organic farmers.

    In terms of campers’ knowledge about choosing and preparing healthy foods, we were again surprised by how many of the students already felt confident in their skills in this area. 80% of the campers said they were comfortable using kitchen tools such as sharp knives and ovens. In reviewing the post-camp assessment, we did observe that all of the students who initially said they did not know how to help friends and family choose healthy foods had changed their answer to the question ‘Do you know how to help your friends and family choose healthy foods?’ After the camp week, two of these students now felt that the answer was ‘yes,’ and two others responded that they ‘kind of’ knew how. Overall, we surmised that the group of campers had been more self-selecting than we anticipated. It was encouraging to spend time with students who expressed eagerness to try new foods and spend time in nature, tending crops. We believe that Camp EarthDance built upon a solid foundation that these students already had in terms of interest in sustainable agriculture and healthy diet.

    The planning process for Camp EarthDance actually began in early 2011, the year that EarthDance hosted a pilot session of Camp EarthDance. During that session, three volunteers and one EarthDance staff person did the bulk of planning for camp; a daily schedule of activities and a meal plan were created. This first year gave EarthDance staff insight into what worked well about the camp, and what could use more attention. (further details in the BACKGROUND section).

    Planning for the 2012 session of Camp EarthDance included more in-depth curriculum planning. Sources for lessons included French Fries and the Food System, and Garden Projects for the Classroom & Special Learning Programs, and the composting curriculum Do the Rot Thing. After our SARE Youth Educator project was funded, EarthDance moved forward to promote the camp. We anticipated that as the camp was in its second year of operation, and because we had more time to promote the camp, we would easily have enough registrations to fill two week-long sessions of camp. We discovered that we were incorrect. EarthDance staff spent significantly more time promoting the camp than we anticipated, and ultimately only received enough registrations to justify one week of camp, with 16 campers. As a result, EarthDance decided to seek out other opportunities to engage youth on the farm such as field trips for school groups and other camps. Youth groups that visited included the Maplewood-Richmond Heights third grade class; Camp Earth Ways; St. Louis University’s Culinary Camp; Little Creek Nature Center’s field biology students; and Kirkwood Middle School eighth graders. In addition to the camp EarthDance students, at least 137 youth visited the farm in 2012, to learn about the theory and practice of organic farming.

    BACKGROUND
    Camp EarthDance debuted in 2011, spearheaded by former EarthDance apprentice and retired middle-school teacher Nancy Schnell. Schnell wanted to offer young people the opportunity to encounter organic farming, just as she had done. She wanted students to see that food grows in soil (not on supermarket shelves), and to learn to prepare fresh, healthy meals. The first year of camp fulfilled Nancy’s hopes, and then some: the students enjoyed kale, spinach and beets, and after camp, several volunteered regularly on the farm, joining Nancy’s “kids crew” on harvest days.

    This first session served as a pilot year for this project. Campers were all students at Ferguson Middle School, less than a mile away from the farm. Students were 80% African-American; all campers’ families requested tuition assistance for their children to attend the camp. Campers expressed highly favorable opinions of their time on the farm participating in farm work, harvesting crops, and meeting one of the alpacas that provide fertility for the farm. Some campers told us that a few of the menu selections (like green salad dressing) were challenging, and that they had gotten very hungry for lunch before it was ready.

    Camp EarthDance 2012 built upon the lessons learned from the camp’s pilot year. Changes from 2011 to 2012 included: more formal lesson planning for on-farm education; shortening the camp day by one hour (significantly easier for the volunteers that helped make camp possible); having campers assist in making meals, rather than cooking from scratch each lunch day; and recruiting interns to help with on-farm educational activities and afternoon recreation. The changes made the camp experience smoother and hopefully even more educational for the participants.

    GOALS
    Camp EarthDance had two major components: developing the students’ experiences in sustainable gardening/farming, and instilling in them the desire to improve their eating habits. We wanted to show them that engaging in a healthy lifestyle is fun and delicious and that they have control over their diets. We also wanted them to realize how they, through home or school gardening, and choices they make in their diets, are part of our nation and planet’s overall environment.

    1. Students will learn about the importance of sustainable agriculture for their health and for the health of their environment.

    2. Students will be conversant in the primary principles and techniques of organic agriculture, including building healthy soil, farms as ecosystems, organic pest control, and crop life cycles.

    3.Students will learn that they can support the health of their environment by supporting local farmers, growing some food organically, eating a more plant-based, seasonal diet, and even considering a career in organic farming.

    4. Students will learn how to prepare at least 4 kid-friendly plant-based meals.

    PROCESS
    1. Develop goals and a vision for the camp. Knowing what we wanted to accomplish through Camp EarthDance helped us with each succeeding phase of the planning process, and provided inspiration to accomplish less fun aspects of bringing the camp together. Additionally, we reviewed notes and suggestions generated after Camp EarthDance pilot program in 2011.

    2. Create a lesson plan for each day of camp. Knowing what activities we would engage in with the students helped to determine the camp’s material and staffing needs.

    2. Create a budget for camp expenses. We considered time that would be spent planning, promoting, and executing the camp, in addition to supplies and additional paid staff. Our SARE YE Grant primarily funded supplies.

    3. Seek funding for the camp. We wrote four funding proposals for the camp, and were awarded two.

    4. Promote the camp. EarthDance staff promoted the camp at Earth Day events, through social and traditional media, and through our own blog and newsletter. This process took significantly more time, and yielded fewer applicants than EarthDance anticipated. If EarthDance were to design the camp again we would attempt to partner with an existing youth program in order to assure a critical number of participants.

    5. Accept registrations and communicate with parents of camp registrants. In order to facilitate this communication, Camp Director posted registration forms to website, wrote template emails and letters, and reached out by email and phone to assure smooth communication. Camp Director organized registrations in a camp binder.

    6. Recruit volunteer assistance. This was accomplished using the following means:

    a. Writing job descriptions for the camp’s staffing needs

    b. Posting the job descriptions to volunteer/ intern search tools, like Idealist.org, advertising on EarthDance’s blog, and reaching out to the nearby community college’s Dietetics program

    c. Interviewing potential interns to determine if the applicants would be a good fit

    d. Communicating frequently and professionally with the camp interns

    7. Schedule and conduct meetings with volunteers to assure planning for the camp was successful.

    a. Camp Nutrition Interns created a daily meal plan and shopping list in accordance with available budget

    b. Camp Nutrition Interns also developed lesson plans for teaching campers about nutrition and food safety practices

    c. Sustainable Farming Education intern assisted in the development of on-farm lessons

    d. Art & Activities Intern assisted in the creation of recipe cards to facilitate the creation of camp memory books

    8. Create a pre/post camp assessment to gauge impact of camp curriculum

    9. Communicate regularly with volunteers, camp venue hosts, partners and camp staff.

    10. Do grocery shopping for all camp food (except for harvested farm food)

    11. Assemble all educational materials, copies, name tags, art supplies, copies of the schedule, etc.

    12. Begin Camp week. Take attendance daily, follow schedule and activities plans. Document camp through photography and written records. EarthDance was fortunate to work with Nancy Schnell as Asst. Camp Director. Schnell, with 30 years of experience in education helped to make transitions between activities smooth, and always sensed when students needed a break. If other organizations/ individuals with less experience working directly with youth are planning new programming of this type, my biggest piece of advice is to pay careful attention to planning the transitions, such as student arrival, changing activities or locations, bathroom breaks, end of the day, etc. These times should be seen as opportunities to involve the whole group in learning or play, or times to make sure that materials or personal supplies are properly cared for, or stored/ retrieved. For example, we always started the day with a breakfast snack and a game of hang-man (called “happy man” in our case) to keep campers focused on an activity that engaged the whole group. Also we built regular water breaks and supply checks into our on-farm time, so that campers kept hydrated and kept track of water bottles, gloves, and bandanas.

    13. Conclude Camp:

    a. Consolidate / inventory supplies

    b. Send thank-yous to all staff, volunteers and other camp benefactors; send checks to paid camp staff

    c. Update budget projections; record actual expenses

    d. Celebrate and broadcast camp highlights through a blog post and outreach events

    14. Continue to engage young people on the farm through outreach to summer camps and other youth groups, in order to provide field trips.

    PEOPLE
    Rachel Levi, Camp Director. Developed curriculum, wrote grants to fund the project, promoted Camp EarthDance, communicated with camp families, conducted outreach to educate the public about camp, delivered some on-farm education, oversaw daily camp operations.

    Nancy Schnell, Asst. Camp Director. Assisted with camp recruitment, oversaw daily camp operations.

    Beth Derhake: Home Ec. Educator/ Facilities Manager Ferguson Middle School Home Ec. Lab. Oversaw operations in home-ec lab; assisted students with meal preparation

    Wayne Prichard: Chipotle Regional Marketing Manager: volunteered to teach students how to make salsa, and led a discussion about sustainable meat production

    Cari French: Dietetic Technician, Volunteer Culinary Educator. Planned kid-friendly, healthy meals; created menu and shopping list based on availability of farm crops and budget considerations; assisted students with meal preparation

    Jennifer Combs: Dietetic Technician, Volunteer Culinary Educator. Planned lessons on food safety and healthy eating.

    Catherine Ostoich: Volunteer Activities Coordinator. Assisted with afternoon activities including arts activities and swimming.

    Courtney Bobsin: Volunteer Farm Education Coordinator. Assisted in lesson planning and delivery of on-farm education.

    Justinn Johnson: High-school Counselor. Encouraged and modeled positive behavior for younger campers; assisted with all aspects of camp logistics.

    RESULTS
    The week of Camp EarthDance resulted in a highly positive experience for the students that participated. The youth involved learned daily lessons about how organic farmers work within ecosystems to produce food that is safe for the environment and healthy for humans. They engaged in productive physical activity while helping with farm work. They also encountered new foods, practiced new kitchen skills, and discussed choices they can make to make healthy eating a habit.

    We measured the results of the camp through pre- and post assessments, in which campers self-reported their knowledge about organic farming, as well as their comfort and interest in cooking healthy meals. EarthDance staff were surprised by how knowledgeable the students were upon entering the camp. About 2/3 had previously visited a farm, and more than 75% of the students said they knew what organic farming is. By the end of the week, 100% of the students had spent time on an organic farm, knew what a beneficial insect does, and why healthy soil is important for organic farmers.

    In terms of campers’ knowledge about choosing and preparing healthy foods, we were again surprised by how many of the students already felt confident in their skills in this area. 80% of the campers said they were comfortable using kitchen tools such as sharp knives and ovens. In reviewing the post-camp assessment, we did observe that all of the students who initially said they did not know how to help friends and family choose healthy foods had changed their answer to the question ‘Do you know how to help your friends and family choose healthy foods?’ After the camp week, two of these students now felt that the answer was ‘yes,’ and two others responded that they ‘kind of’ knew how. Overall, we surmised that the group of campers had been more self-selecting than we anticipated. It was encouraging to spend time with students who expressed eagerness to try new foods and spend time in nature, tending crops. We believe that Camp EarthDance built upon a solid foundation that these students already had in terms of interest in sustainable agriculture and healthy diet.

    DISCUSSION
    The most challenging and surprising aspect of this project was the difficulty we had recruiting campers to participated in the camp. In both 2011 and 2012, our campers reported that the experience had been fun and educational. Even some of the students who seemed most skeptical about new foods, or initially unsure that they would have fun, wound up saying that they hoped to return to camp the following year.

    However, after two years in a row of lower registration than EarthDance had anticipated, staff considered what factors had caused the difficulty recruiting campers. We considered the possibility that our organization does not yet have a reputation for serving youth, and families that regularly enroll children in this type of summer program already have loyalty to other camps. Also, Camp EarthDance was targeted toward middle school students, since our relationship with Ferguson Middle School had made the full-day camp, including food preparation at Ferguson Middle’s Home Ec. Lab, possible. However, we heard from many community members that wanted farm-programming for younger or older students. Finally, most families in the Ferguson-Florissant district are not accustomed to spending $175 on a week’s worth of enrichment activities for their children (many of the campers attended on partial scholarships). Moving forward, we decided that we could serve more youth, and use our staff resources more efficiently if we partnered with existing camps to offer educational field trips to the farm. Additionally, we determined that a summer job program at the farm might be a more a more effective way of connecting to youth in our neighborhood.

    Our SARE Youth-Educator Grant Project took place in 2012, and EarthDance did not choose to host another session of the camp in 2013. The results of the project changed our approach to youth programming: we reached out to existing camps, school groups, home school families, and other organizations that serve youth to offer field trips and service learning opportunities. A total of 262 youth, ages 6-18 participated in this type of programming on the farm in 2013. These groups took educational farm tours, participated in learning activities based on some of the curriculum developed for camp EarthDance, and many took part in farm tasks, including mulching, cultivating, and harvesting vegetables. We made sure that all groups had the opportunity to taste test fresh food in the fields. We found that this approach to educating youth about sustainable farming was a much better fit for EarthDance’s current community profile and staff resources.

    We are pleased to report that we have received funding for a two-year pilot of a new youth program at EarthDance. The YEAH! (Youth Exploring Agriculture and Health) Program will build upon EarthDance’s previous collaborations with the Ferguson-Florissant school district, to bring EarthDance staff into health classes at our local high-school, offer field trips to middle and high school students, and provide summer jobs on the farm for 4-6 interested teens in 2014 and 2015. Additionally, this spring, six high school students will participate in job training at the farm, through a program called the Work Experience Program, also in collaboration with FFSD.

    Given our experience, we would advise organizations that do not yet have a formal youth program, but wish to establish one, to partner with an organization that will supply the youth participants.

    OUTREACH
    Outreach is an important part of what EarthDance does throughout they year. We continually seek opportunities to bring new individuals to visit the farm, and to share our story through various media, speaking, and tabling events.

    The means by which we shared information specifically about Camp EarthDance included: blog posts to the EarthDance website and our e-newsletter, The Cultivator; appearances at tabling events; several speaking engagements at conferences; and through a video that screened at EarthDance’s annual ‘farmraiser,’ Farmers Formal. The audiences for these outreach activities varied; when we were promoting enrollment in the camp we targeted potential participants and parents at St. Louis Earth Day and Ferguson Earth Day, 2012; after the camp concluded we shared information about it with teachers and other that work with youth at the Growing Power Summit and the Literacy for Social Justice Conference, in order to share advice about planning and funding opportunities for youth in sustainable agriculture; At the SARE Farmers Forum, we shared the Camp ED story with farmers, college students, and others working in sustainable agriculture, in order to encourage anyone that may be interested in pursuing farm-to-table projects with youth; and at EarthDance’s yearly celebration, Farmers Formal, we included images and information about the camp in a video conveying the year’s highlights to assembled EarthDance supporters.

    1.STL Earth Day 2012 4/22/2012 5000+ St. Louis area residents attended this event, where EarthDance had an informational booth; we interacted with 150-200 individuals

    2. Ferguson Earth Day 4/18/2012 300+ Middle school students and teachers attended this event, where EarthDance had an informational booth.

    3. EarthDance’s Blog 6/26/2012

    4. Growing Power Summit 9/9/2012: EarthDance staff members presented on funding and planning Camp EarthDance; 24 attendees participated in the hour long presentation and received handouts with additional resources.

    5. NCR-SARE Farmers Forum 11/1-2/2012: Approximately 20 individuals viewed a 20 minute presentation about Camp EarthDance

    6. Farmers Formal 11/3/2012: about 200 individuals watched a video that featured images and information about the camp

    7. Literacy for Social Justice conference: 3/2/2013. Approximately 200 individuals watched a panel discussion about partnerships for social justice in education; Rachel Levi participated and discussed the multiple partnerships that enabled Camp EarthDance.

    8. STL Earth Day 4/22/2013: 5000+ St. Louis area residents attended this event, where EarthDance had an informational booth; EarthDance interacted with 150-200 individuals

    9. Ferg Earth Day 4/17/2013 300+ Middle school students and teachers attended this event, where EarthDance had an informational booth.

    A video from the 2012 NCR-SARE Farmers Forum at the National Small Farm Trade Show & Conference can be viewed online through NCR-SARE’s YouTube channel. Copy the following URL and paste it into your browser to view the presentation.
    https://youtu.be/pPX_dFaI83o?list=PLQLK9r1ZBhhEGdL7uvTM8P0AzdBnksONr

    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.