• Tapping for Taste

    Tapping for Taste

    There are people in Vermont who prefer fake maple syrup—not just people who are looking for something cheaper but who actually prefer the stuff made of corn syrup. There are other people in Vermont who don’t talk to those fake syrup types. And there are Vermonters who stand by Grade B for all occasions and others who keep a little Fancy on hand.

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  • Last Morsel—Roots on the Rails

    Last Morsel—Roots on the Rails

    On summer evenings in the garden in Weathersfield, I know it’s nearly time to call it a day when the train whistle blows; over the river, Amtrak’s Vermonter is about to cross the highway in Cornish. As I stand up, knees cracking from too-long bending over the rows of carrots that want thinning, I think about the train on its trek north to St. Albans, and how tomorrow it will head south to Washington, DC. Back and forth, more than 600 miles, each day, every day.

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  • The First Localvores

    The First Localvores

    I have always been fascinated by wild foods. When I was a kid growing up in Indiana we had a copy of Euell Gibbons’ book Stalking the Wild Asparagus, and I remember how exciting it was to read about eating cattails, making acorn flour, and brewing sassafras tea. As I recall, the cattail stalks tasted a bit like mild turnips, the acorn flour was tannic and needed a lot of processing before being edible, and the tea tasted like something just this side of root beer. Little did I know as a kid that wild edibles such as cattails and acorns were just a couple of the foods historically gathered and consumed by the first people to inhabit the state I would one day call home.

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  • Taking it Slow in Italy

    Taking it Slow in Italy

    Getting together, the listening to and exchanging of ideas— that is the miracle of Terra Madre.”

    With this, Slow Food International founder Carlo Petrini welcomed us to the 2010 Terra Madre conference and set the tone for our four days in Turin, Italy. He addressed an audience of 5,000 representatives from 161 countries—small-scale farmers, producers, educators, and observers—who had traveled to Italy to meet with their peers and discuss global issues of food, culture, and justice. We came to take part in the conversation, too, along with two dozen other Vermonters. The experience renewed our appreciation for the value of gathering around a table to break bread and to exchange ideas.

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  • Cookbooks, Culture,  and Community

    Cookbooks, Culture, and Community

    The case for local nuts. No, I’m not talking about your odd mother-in-law, your bizarre ex-boyfriend, or that whacko who expresses herself, extensively, at town meeting. And I don’t mean aficionados or extremely enthusiastic people. I mean those portable nuggets of nutrition, held aloft by tree limbs. A nut, technically speaking, is a big seed enclosed by a hard shell. And even though you’re now fantasizing about almond and macadamia instead of weirdo and diehard, I’m here to tell you about what nuts we can grow in Vermont, and why.

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  • Post Oil Solutions at Five Years

    Post Oil Solutions at Five Years

    A strong regional food system—one in which the people of a region are participating in their own food production in both sustaining and sustainable ways—is community based. As much as this system grows food, it grows people, encouraging relationships of collaboration and mutual aid, respect and care. No longer at war with nature and each other, unburdened by that ancient power relationship of us over them, and having given up the self-destructive effort to control life, people actively work with life in a community-based food system. In this way, they practice “relational agriculture,” building the social fabric that leads to a truly sustainable food system for all.

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  • Halal in the Hills

    Halal in the Hills

    Art Meade is a 59-year-old livestock and poultry farmer with a thick Maine accent and a farm on Route 100 in Morrisville. He also happens to run the only state-licensed slaughter facility in Vermont that caters to Muslims who practice halal slaughter. This is the Muslim tradition of swiftly slitting the throat of a domesticated meat animal with a sharp knife; the animal is believed to be killed instantly and painlessly (though there is some debate about that). Muslims, who are directed by their religion to eat halal meat, can purchase such meat in Vermont stores, but some prefer to do the slaughter themselves.

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  • New to America,  Old Hands at Agriculture

    New to America, Old Hands at Agriculture

    There’s something exciting happening at the Intervale. “So what else is new?” you might say. “There’s always something interesting happening at the Intervale.” But not every day do you see families from more than four different countries, speaking a mix of different languages, planting lenga-lenga, molukhia, or Asian mustards side by side in a lush valley in Vermont. This summer that will be the scene at the gardens at Ethan Allen Homestead, a field at the Intervale Center in Burlington, and on farmland in Shelburne.

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  • Set the Table with Switchel

    Set the Table with Switchel

    Long a staple in Northeast hayfields as a thirst quencher and restorative, switchel—alternatively called “haymaker’s punch” —was a colonial era proto-Gatorade, a source of both hydration and electrolyte replenishment. Recipes vary, but the most common ingredients were molasses, cider vinegar, and ginger, mixed to taste in a jug of very cold well water. While the concoction could have provided benefit to all manner of laborers and sporting folks, its use was particularly common among the workers of the hayfield and the children who carried the switchel jug to them.

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  • Restoring Vermont’s Heritage

    Restoring Vermont’s Heritage

    “The farming of our fathers was exceedingly simple, content to draw from a virgin soil the supplies of simple wants, instead of aiming itself for their increase. With the impoverishment of the soil, with the forests almost swept off the face of the country and the consequent climate change, with the multiplied wants of society and development of so many new industries, the highest intelligence and energies are required to remodel our system of agriculture so that it may fully meet the demands made upon it.

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  • A Farmhouse Feeds Its Neighbors

    A Farmhouse Feeds Its Neighbors

    When Joseph Kiefer and Martin Kemple founded Food Works in 1987, phrases such as “food security” and “local food system” had yet to come into common parlance. It was ambitious—maybe even radical at the time—to think of using gardens and locally grown food to address the root causes of childhood hunger.

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  • Farming & Feasting with the Robinsons: Winter

    Farming & Feasting with the Robinsons: Winter

    In the not-so-distant past, eating locally was a way of life and a matter of necessity. For four generations, the Robinson family farmed in Ferrisburgh, at the place known today as the Rokeby Museum. The museum’s collection includes correspondence and household records detailing the family’s ways of farming, preserving, and eating. In the last of this four-part series, we take a look at how the Robinsons cooked, ate, and farmed in the late 1800s.

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  • How to Start a Community Garden

    How to Start a Community Garden

    Back in January, as my husband and I searched for a place to live in Middlebury, we had big plans to create a summer vegetable garden. But it quickly became clear that housing in town with gardening space wouldn’t be easy to find. Apartments that advertised a “big yard” always seemed to have a “scruffy lawn,” and few landlords reacted well to my desire to dig out a portion of that lawn to plant vegetables.

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  • Getting Everyone to the Table

    Getting Everyone to the Table

    Back in January, as my husband and I searched for a place to live in Middlebury, we had big plans to create a summer vegetable garden. But it quickly became clear that housing in town with gardening space wouldn’t be easy to find. Apartments that advertised a “big yard” always seemed to have a “scruffy lawn,” and few landlords reacted well to my desire to dig out a portion of that lawn to plant vegetables.

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Farm Camp—Planting Confidence, Harvesting Strength

Kids at farm camp

Written By

Lisa Holderness

Written on

June 01 , 2008

As I downshift off the Putney exit of I-91, my husband, Jerry, is roused from his dozing by the hollow sound of several hundred jostling maple syrup jugs. It’s April, time to buy containers for our maple syrup at Bascom’s 10% container sale, and time to post Farm Camp flyers.

Fifteen years ago, long before Jerry and I started Farm Camp at our Guilford farm, I pulled off this exit to teach environmental science and biology at The Putney School on Elm Lea Farm. I watched students rise to the challenge of the morning barn requirements before long days of intense classes. We had family-style meals at big round tables, talking as we ate the meat raised on Putney pastures. The farm was an extension of my classroom.

Soon I met Jerry Smith, an organic farmer, and a few years later I traded full-time science teaching for mothering and farming. Our son, Stuart, began teaching me more about the growth opportunities that farm life can provide for children. He loves to be of use around the farm and to cook foods he’s harvested with us. He thinks in terms of relationships and cause and effect. He knows dozens of plants, and prides himself on his mental map of our fields, our sugarbush, and the local farmers’ market. From an early age, Stuart varied his routines and diet according to the position of the sun and seasons. As he grew, so did my conviction that a children’s farm camp had a role to play in our farm mission to promote a more joyous and sustainable community.

Farm Camp at Deer Ridge Farm is now in its fourth year, serving campers age 4–15, and every day dawns full of possibility and wonder during the week-long camps. Every activity reminds the children and the adults that the earth provides, and that we have the knowledge, tools, and strength to get a job done. Children share responsibility for the animals, for creating harvest meals, and for looking after each other’s well-being. Sometimes gratification is as immediate as a weed-free row, a pint of red berries, or a batch of homemade maple ice cream. Other times success is deferred, and we work through disappointment to return again to promise and possibility.

On day one, campers learn safety considerations and use a treasure hunt or challenge course to learn their way around the farm. (Repeat campers learn that the farm’s crops rotate from year to year!) And they make their own list of farm, craft, building, and cooking goals, which they refer to throughout the week to make choices about their activities. This method of having children make choices mirrors the role of the independent farmer—observing, weighing choices, making decisions.

We begin each day with greetings around our small circle, a song, and announcements of what’s happening on the farm that day. Early in the week, every group does short farm rotations—harvesting, preparing and storing farm foods, planting and weeding, and animal chores such as feeding, watering, collecting eggs, and moving fences. From then on, children follow their interests with the help of a staff-child ratio of 1:4. Children harvest their own snacks, build structures, go hiking to pick blueberries, and process raw wool. They love setting up their own farm stand at the farm and at the Wednesday Brattleboro Farmers’ Market—making signs, using a cash box, creating flower bouquets, washing veggies for sale, and setting up their own herbal salves and felted projects. In our Farm Photo camp, campers age 9–15 visit local farms and edit their own photo documentaries on farm life. Some campers stay for a campfire dinner and an overnight, experiencing the farm beyond the hours of 9 to 4. Throughout the week, each child is celebrated, and shared meals and work build friendships.

There are other time-honored elements of Vermont farm life that we incorporate into Farm Camp. Campers let loose with games from the leader’s bag of tricks, and invent their own games. (The chicken house once became the “jail” in a camper-initiated game of tag!) We get sweaty and dirty and then cool off, often by sliding down the slip n’ slide on the side of one of our hills (we always have a lifeguard on staff). Before lunch, we give thanks to the sun, soil, plants, and animals—and the farmers and cooks, too—who made our meal possible. Finally, we take time for solo sits with our journals, so we can all enjoy the farm as if we were alone for a few minutes in the midst of our gregarious work and play.

Our model of Farm Camp is probably unique for its incorporation of educational philosophy, farmer personalities, and site specifics. I was a teacher and curriculum consultant before I became a farmer, and Jerry has 30 years of organic farming under his belt and an incredible way with children. We own our farm, live and work organically in intimate relation with the soil and our community, and make our living from what we raise and harvest. By offering scholarships and transportation help, we make a special effort to reach out to children who might not otherwise get the opportunity to attend Farm Camp.

There are a variety of other farm camp opportunities in Vermont. Farm & Wilderness Camp in Plymouth is well known for its overnight camps built on Quaker values, with an emphasis on farm life, self-sufficiency, and the development of character and responsibility. They also offer day camps. Shelburne Farms offers day camps in a gorgeous farm environment on the shores of Lake Champlain. And Food Works at Two Rivers Center in Montpelier offers a unique hands-on Herb Camp, at which children learn to make herbal salves, balms, and teas. The Farm-Based Education Association has information on these and many other programs (www.farmbasededucation.org).

Farms cultivate a problem-solving approach to life’s challenges and surprises. They provide ample opportunity for reflection, balance of work and play, immersion in beauty, and awareness of self and place. Children want to have responsibility for other creatures and to be needed, to interact in community, to be challenged, and to experience their own physical strength—just as adults do.

Sometimes I wonder: am I perpetuating an agrarian myth, like all those farm animal picture books and cutesy animated movies? No—my family and I are real, part of a “new agrarian economy” based on relationships and sustainability. The lesson of Farm Camp is real and universal: to feed, to plant, and to harvest is to be more confident, more powerful, more satisfied, and more deeply engaged in life’s web—in short, to be more human.

For more on Farm Camp at Deer Ridge Farm, go to deerridgefarmvt.net. Deer Ridge Farm in Guilford produces maple syrup, berries, cut flowers, and vegetables for the Brattleboro Farmers’ Market, their roadside stand, weddings, and their new winter CSA.

Photo courtesy of Lisa Holderness

About the Author

Lisa Holderness

Lisa Holderness

Lisa Holderness has an MS in environmental science from Antioch New England. She has been a science teacher and environmental educator for 25 years and an organic farmer for 14 years.

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