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: Green Thumbs and Dirty Knees 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.