North Carolina Farm Camps Give Kids a Taste for Agriculture
Do your kids love animals, getting their hands dirty and wide open spaces? Consider sending them to summer camp on a North Carolina farm, where they’ll learn how their food is produced and have the opportunity to care for calves, chicks, goats and other animals.
“We have found through the changing times, more and more children don’t know where their food comes from,” says Anne Bullard, director of Gwynn Valley Camp in Brevard. “Some of our campers are surprised to learn that potatoes grow in the ground or tomatoes and green beans come from a vine.”
Gwynn Valley Camp
Nestled in the scenic Blue Ridge Mountains, Gwynn Valley has hosted a summer camp for boys and girls since 1935. In the 1980s, Gwynn Valley started its Farm Program, which allows campers to harvest vegetables they will later enjoy in the dining room, care for animals, collect eggs and learn about veterinary science.
“Some of the farm responsibilities include picking and harvesting vegetables that are ripe and weighing them – children like to know they picked 350 ears of corn in 20 minutes,” Bullard says.
Campers also dig potatoes, plant new plants or seeds in the garden, listen to the heartbeats of animals with stethoscopes, learn how to milk a cow by hand, use an automatic milker, watch chicks hatch in the incubator, measure the size of eggs gathered and feed baby calves and goats.
“We have baby calves that are bottle-fed twice daily, goats that give birth in early June, and a pig that usually gives birth around the first of July,” Bullard says. “The campers play with the animals, feed them and name the babies.”
The kids also help grow lots of fresh produce, including onions, potatoes, broccoli, cabbage, peppers, lettuce, kale, squash, zucchini, green beans, tomatoes, corn, scallions, okra and herbs.
“While it is thrilling to teach our campers that their food doesn’t magically appear in grocery stores, it’s even more rewarding to see campers try new foods because they helped pick the vegetables that make up the dish,” Bullard says. “It brings such joy to our staff hearing from parents that when campers go home they are willing to try new foods they learned to like at camp.”
In addition to healthy food choices, sustainability is an important value at Gwynn Valley. The farm raises about 25,000 pounds of vegetables each summer as well as their own beef. They even have a gristmill from the 1800s where they grind their own cornmeal for all the cornbread served at camp. They grow the corn on the farm and dry it over the winter before milling it each summer.
“We raise approximately 60 percent of our food on our farm and feed 350 people three meals per day,” Bullard says.
Gwynn Valley’s main camp is designed for children finishing kindergarten through sixth grade. They also offer programs for campers in seventh through tenth grades that have a stronger emphasis on adventure activities and building community.
Patterson Farm Summer Fun Camp
In Mount Ulla, Patterson Farm Inc. began hosting farm camps for children about five years ago. The Patterson family has been in the produce business since 1919, spanning four generations.
“We started hosting farm camps because we believe in the importance of connecting kids with nature, interacting with others and the environment, playing outside and getting their hands dirty,” says Michelle Patterson, director of fun at Patterson Farm Market & Tours Inc. “Summer is the perfect time to do this, especially when parents have to work and kids often spend the day inside connected to technology. In a time when only 2 percent of our population is farming, it is vital for people to hear from farmers about the realities of farming and agriculture.”
At Patterson Farm, campers can expect to learn about farming, feed and care for animals, help with gardening, play games and engage in arts and crafts related to agriculture.
“There is lots of fun packed into each day,” Patterson says. “The highlights we often hear back from attendees are about Fishing Day and Water Sports Day. Campers also enjoy showing their caregivers the arts and crafts they complete throughout the week.”
Each day, camp staff educate campers about care of a different farm animal, including goats, sheep, horses, donkeys, pigs, rabbits and chickens. They also discuss a different fruit or veggie grown on the farm each day, from strawberries and tomatoes to peppers, cucumbers and pumpkins.
In 2019, Patterson Farm will offer two sessions of summer camp. The first session happens June 17-21, and the second session takes place July 15-19. Main camp is designed for ages 4-11, and there is a Farmer-in-Training Junior Camp Counselor program for ages 12-14.
Patterson says children come to camp with all kinds of misconceptions about farming. Some campers believe brown cows produce chocolate milk, for example. Other campers have said that if farms didn’t exist, they would just get their food at the grocery store.
“At Patterson Farm, we’re passionate about connecting youth to nature and helping them discover where their food comes from, as today’s world has become increasingly disconnected with farming,” Patterson says. “We especially enjoy seeing campers gain confidence in creating things with their hands, and their eyes light up when they interact with a new animal. Throughout the week, we see campers grow not only in knowledge but also in friendships with others.”
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– Jessica Mozo