Out on the Lake, Down on the Farm: Add Farming to Camp Chingachgook’s List of Outdoor Activities
By James H. Miller
Sunday, August 12, 2012
Within the last five years, the farm at Camp Chingachgook has expanded considerably into a sustainable producer and educator. The camp has taken in more animals, sown more plants and vegetables than ever, becoming a well-maintained, wholesome setting where hundreds of campers, from the youngest to the oldest, can experience functional farming, in some cases for the first time.
Needless to say, the campers are learning all that comes with that experience.
“It’s neat, the kids are getting a sense of where their food comes from,” says Jessie Gardner, the primary caretaker of the Chingachgook farm. “It comes from a farm, it doesn’t come from a grocery store.”
Not only Gardner’s name makes her the ideal person for the primary caretaker position (meaning she spends every morning and evening there). She’s lived on a family farm in Hudson her whole life, one that dates back to the early 1700s, where she devotes the better part of her time and energy.
Camp Chingachgook offers, among other skill classes, a farm tutorial, which began three years ago, and teaches campers the basic skills of plant and animal care and maintanience. Home on the farm are pigs, rabbits, goats, and a horse, many of which were acquired within the last three years. Campers learn about animal behavior, how to detect an animal health emergency, biology, how wildlife and weather affect farming, sustainability, and plenty more constructive knowledge.
The most recent additions to the Chingachgook farm are five Rhode Island Hens, whose eggs the campers have been helping to collect. “They’ve been excellent with the kids,” Gardner says. “Not too skittish.”
Gardner hopes the farm class will provide kids with a better understanding of the day-to-day reality of farmers, of food production, and the process that typically gets obscured by supermarket aisles. “I want them to have appreciation of local farmers, and how hard farmers have to work to put that food on the table and put that food in the grocery stores,” she says.
But that’s not all she hopes for. By the time the campers leave at summer’s end, she wants them to have the skills and knowledge, and perhaps the drive, to build a farm back home. “They’re given the knowledge of how to take care of an animal and a garden, and if they want to go home and say ‘hey mom and dad can I start a garden?’” their parents will likely be confident enough of their skills to give them their approval, says Gardner.
Lately, with the recent wave of brutally hot weather, the campers have been learning how to keep the animals cool and comfortable. For the rabbits, bowls of water are frozen and sets insider their pens, while a lot of mud is made for the pigs to loll in at their pleasure.
At the beginning of each tutorial, the campers adopt either a garden plot or an animal, which provides them with a personal connection to the farmland. Often times, they have never had such a connection. “It’s funny see the kids do something for the very first time,” Gardner says. “Some have never held a chicken or never interacted with a pig before.”
Beside a bridge where rows of small campers saunter, is the tidy garden, which has doubled in size this year. It consists of blueberries, raspberries, zucchini, tomatoes, lettuce, cabbage, one eggplant, carrots, beets, and corn; while additions this year include cauliflower, morning glories, sunflowers, and broccoli. “Everyone does a taste test, unless they don’t like it, then we give it to the animals,” says Gardner.
“The kids love being down here and getting their hands in everything,” she adds.
Gardener says she tries to keep up with what’s going on in other local farms, and support them at farmer’s markets. She knows that local farms are connected, and that what’s happening at one may be happening at Chingachgook. “I like to know what’s going on in the area in terms of particular insects and see how that might affect our farm here,” she says.
The gate to the garden remains open much of the day, allowing different clusters of kids to come pick, taste, and learn.
“We try to make the garden as welcoming as possible,” Gardner says.