It would be easy to plunk my kids into endless summer camps that offered the routine round of swimming, games and arts and crafts, but each year I try to seek out something that offers a more enriching experience, something they’ll talk about for years to come. Nature Camp at Tauxemont was one of those experiences when they were preschoolers. Arcadia Farm Camp is poised to become the next.
Farm Camp is an outgrowth of the Arcadia Center for Sustainable Food & Agriculture on the grounds of historic Woodlawn Plantation. Launched by the Neighborhood Restaurant Group, parent company of Evening Star and Vermillion, among others, Arcadia seeks to be a center for “local efforts and initiatives around better food.”
The farm is an educational destination for students, Farm Camp being the week-long effort that brings rising first- through fifth-graders in closer connection with the food they eat through discussion of nutrition, environmental stewardship, food distribution and commerce – not to mention getting their hands dirty.
Since my kids attend Hollin Meadows Science & Math Focus School with its extraordinary outdoor education program and learning gardens, they were stoked about the prospect of digging into full-fledged farm dirt. The sight of chickens when they arrived on their first day signaled they were not to be disappointed.
Despite the intense heat last week, day one got under way quickly with the “farmer” and “gardener” groups heading straight to the fields for hands-on (and hands-in) learning, and it just got better from there. On Tuesday, campers got to visit Arcadia’s Mobile Market, which delivers food to local communities and works with schools to deliver nutrition education.
Campers were tasked with selecting and purchasing produce to be used that day in the first of three cooking demonstrations with local chefs. Chicken Florentine (made with Swiss chard) and okra with tomatoes were created by chefs Ed, Christina and Shannon from D.C. Central Kitchen, and we’re already set to recreate these dishes here at home this week thanks to the provided recipes and my two campers, who can’t wait to help make and eat them (that my daughter is eating chard is simply amazing, not to mention her new enthusiasm for okra).
On Wednesday, Arcadia’s partner, Chipotle, provided lunch for all the campers along with the raw materials to make salsa. Thursday, chef Annette created healthy white bean and ranch dips to be used with vegetables. All of this was sandwiched in between learning about Virginian native plants, pollinators, chickens, heirloom crops and a lot of tasting.
Friday, campers tagged onto the American Horticultural Society’s 2012 National Children & Youth Garden Symposium, which was hosted at Hollin Meadows, where they got to experience the learning gardens and variety of outdoor education activities.
There was plenty of harvesting in the garden. My son brought home a powerful red onion and a few chard leaves on Monday, which we incorporated into a stir-fry that night, plus several gorgeous rippled chioggia beets, which we ate both raw and cooked. More beets appeared in my daughter’s daypack later in the week.
The week culminated with an open house for parents at the day’s end Friday, where campers had, at their own initiative, created a farmers' market for parents to buy from. Not only had they eaten well, played well (lots of water games to beat the heat) and worked hard, but also they had clearly embraced food economics.
My son, who has always been enthusiastic about food, earned the “Adventurous Eating” award, and my daughter took home the “Supreme Squash Bug Squisher” award for her unfazed and unrelenting ability to take out these plant invaders (apparently none of the boys would even touch the bugs!).
Without a doubt my kids will be returning to Farm Camp next year. In fact, they wish it ran all summer. This week’s camp, with the routine swimming, games and arts and crafts, will be fun, but the experience will pale by comparison.
Mary Porter is a nutrition counselor living in the Fort Hunt area. You can email her at firstname.lastname@example.org