Summer day camps offer city children a peek at ag
NEWARK, Del. — They’ll be milking goats and cows, growing microgreens and harvesting honey and worms.
Children, many of them urban dwellers who have never seen a farm, are to frolic among Mid-Atlantic fields as summer day camps get underway.
The efforts, farm owners say, help to educate youngsters and the community about agriculture and promote farming. Farm owners also earn supplementary income — generally between $250 and $400 per week per participant.
“It’s meant to help people learn who love farming,” Melanie Hiner of the Kranz Hill Farm in Newark, Del., said. “It helps preserve our farm from development, and it’s educational.”
As for the children: They “come back year after year. They fall in love with the farm.”
Most summer day camps accommodate children somewhere between the ages of 6 and 14.
Participants bring their own lunch. Camps are typically held during the months of June through August, and registration in some instances ends as early as May.
Some farms make half-sessions and second registrant discounts available.
Hiner said she launched Kranz Hill’s Down on the Farm program in response to a popular agricultural lecture series there and set aside 14 of the farm’s 120 acres for it.
She contacted the state of Delaware and obtained all licenses and insurance, most notably liability insurance, she said.
Staff members are trained in emergency management, Hiner said.
Mikayla Fulper at Fulper Family Farm in Lambertsville, N.J., makes sure that camp counselors are all trained in First Aid and that they are CPR certified, she said.
Groups such as the American Camp Association offer summer camp organizers an opportunity to gain credibility through peer reviews of camp operations that lead to accreditation.
The ACA has offices in Indiana and the New York-New Jersey region and works with experts from groups such as the American Red Cross and the American Academy of Pediatrics to ensure that practices are up to date and standards research-based.
The group also reviews staff qualifications and training and site-specific emergency procedures.
Camp organizers should work with local government, public safety and transportation officials on the latter, according to an ACA article published in March 2018.
The article also recommended addressing safety and security by inviting public safety officials to assess the property and help develop a plan.
Recognizing the importance of deterrants such as gates, guards and cameras and the use of signage and lighting is a part of that, the article suggested.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency maintains a list of disaster preparedness education programs and resources for camp organizers who want to teach disaster preparedness to children.
“There’s definitely a learning curve about how to make a good summer camp,” Fulper said. “Now we’re kind of in the groove.”
Jocelyn Swanson brings some of her own Montessori education expertise to her Hideaway Farm in Williamsburg, Va.
Swanson works as a consultant to Montessori schools and training centers and helps her husband, David, tend to goats, hens, chickens, an orchard, vegetables and flowers on their 35-acre farm of pasture, fields and woods.
The focus of her Heritage Homesteading summer day camp is building character, social skills and hardiness among the 6-to-12 age set, she said.
Activities include milking goats, making bread, candles, soap and cheese, harvesting honey and growing vegetables in the woods.
Academics focus on different species of living beings — lace wing butterflies, for instance.
Horseback riding is optional, Swanson said, and most everyone does it.
Parents sign liability waivers first.
Children get to know how difficult farming is — and how rewarding, Swanson said.
“They connect to the land with their hands and their hearts” and are rewarded with farmer “badges” for their efforts.
Fulper, 24, grew up as a Farmstead Adventure Camp counselor, where a local schoolteacher coordinates and leads the offering.
Her elder sister, Brianna, launched the day camp in 2005, and children are paired off with calves and cows that they halter and wash.
The camps conclude after three to five days with faux livestock shows that allow parents to see what their children learned.
As part of what Hiner describes as a focus on culture and cultivation, counselors at Kranz Hill’s Down on the Farm camp weave history, art projects and music into daily themes.
A session on rain teaches about watering plants and the way that Ancient Egyptians managed water, and an a capaella group sings about the topic.
The children spend free time with livestock and hike through a bamboo forest.
The education, Hiner said is “practical. It’s about how things work.”
“New Jersey is very urban. So there are a lot of people who don’t farm and very few who do,” Fulper said. “People get to know us in the community, and the kids get to learn things they wouldn’t get to learn about at home.”
Bill Edelen said his Farm Camp at the 149-acre Baltimore Agriculture Center draws children from the nearby Baltimore metropolitan area. Participants get to learn about planting and harvesting vegetables, conserving land and water, feeding and caring for animals and more.
“None of the children know about agriculture,” Edelen said. “We hope they go away with an appreciation of it.”
The Fulper family, in accepting as many as 30 children for any given week, boasts one of the larger groups.
The camp grew by word of mouth and, thanks to demand, from one session to four or five.
The Fulpers reach out to local schools to let them know about the offering. Graduates often go on to become counselors, Fulper said.
Heritage Homesteading has proven so popular that Hideaway Farm has expanded its offerings to include a teen leadership program.
For younger children, Swanson offers Mommy and Me sessions.
Edelen offers his camp as part of Maryland Agricultural Resource Council educational programs that also include workshops and educational sessions on topics such as pruning and farm engine maintenance.
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