Organic Farm to Summer Camp Table: Opportunities for Youth on an Organic Farm
In December of 2011, EarthDance proposed to host two, week-long sessions of Camp EarthDance, a farm-to-table summer camp for middle school students. The camp was to include hands-on lessons about organic farming as well as a culinary component. Students would also learn why a local, plant-based diet is healthy and environmentally responsible, and they would assist in the preparation of meals that included freshly harvested produce.
During Spring of 2012, EarthDance staff fine-tuned curriculum, developed publicity materials and planned promotional strategies. EarthDance also sought the help of several volunteer interns to assist in planning and execution of various aspects of the camp. Camp Director Rachel Levi publicized the internships, interviewed candidates for the positions, hired and collaborated with four volunteer interns, as well as a home economics instructor and a high school counselor.
In March, April, May, and June EarthDance staff publicized the camp and processed registrations. Promotion for the camp included: an entry on EarthDance’s blog, an article in EarthDance’s e-newletter (received by over 4000 subscribers), 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; 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; appearances on local TV and radio segments; and reaching out to other community organizations that serve youth.
Although EarthDance made substantial efforts to publicize the camp, and despite hearing high levels of interest about the camp during our outreach efforts, EarthDance did not receive enough registrations to hold the first week of camp. We proposed to hold two, week-long sessions of camp, with 10-15 students in each session. We received 16 registrations, and all of these students attended session II of the camp, June 18-22.
In June of 2012 EarthDance hosted Camp EarthDance. Each day, the 16 campers met at Ferguson Middle School, 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 Taverna green beans for market.
When campers returned to Ferguson Middle School, 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.
Campers also completed pre- and post camp assessments, in which they self-reported on 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 percent of the students said they knew what organic farming is. Of course, by the end of the week, 100 percent 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 percent 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.
We shared information about Camp EarthDance at the following events:
• The Ferguson and St. Louis Earth Day celebrations, 2012. EarthDance’s info booth at these events featured a poster with visual representations of our 2011 camp. We used this as a method of engaging visitors to our booth in discussion of the purpose and activities we had planned for the upcoming summer camp.
• The 2012 Growing Power Conference in Milwaukee, WI. About 30 youth educators attended a workshop (presented by EarthDance staff) on designing and funding educational opportunities for youth on organic farms.
• The NCR-SARE Farmers Forum at the National Small Farm Trade Show and Conference in Columbia MO, Nov. 2012. About 15 expo attendees viewed the presentation.
• The 2013 Literacy for Social Justice Conference, Feb. 2013. About 200 educator-attendees heard a brief synopsis of the camp, and several dozen later spoke at greater length to me (Camp Director) about the project.
• In the last month, EarthDance has reached out through email, to directors of other camps. We invited existing camps to schedule field trips to EarthDance farm this summer. Through this outreach, we have been in touch with 5 camp directors thus far, with a goal of bringing more youth to the farm this summer. As part of this outreach, we shared information about the 2012 camp, including aspects of the camp curriculum.
WORK PLAN FOR 2013
In 2013, EarthDance will be partnering with existing camps (YMCA, Camp Earth Ways, and others, as we arrange) to provide opportunities for more youth to experience the farm.