Giving children a taste of farm life at agricultural camps

Friday, March 16, 2018, Vol. 42, No. 11
By Hollie Deese

Campers at Hickory Hill Farm Camp learning about planting while a pig observes. Campers there participate in themed activities in the morning and farm activities in the afternoon.

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Most parents can agree on the importance of getting their kids away from their screens and playing outside with their peers IRL.

There is no getting around the fact that children today grow up immersed in digital media, and the American Academy of Pediatrics finds it has both positive and negative effects on healthy development.

The latest guidelines on screen time, released by the AAP in fall 2016, recommend parents and caregivers of school-aged children and adolescents balance media use with other healthy behaviors. Problems begin when media use displaces physical activity, hands-on exploration and face-to-face social interaction in the real world, which is critical to learning.

Agriculture camps are a great way for kids to do just that and disconnect from media while connecting with the earth and animals. Tennessee’s on-farm summer camps guarantee days spent outdoors enjoying traditional farm kid fun, everything from wading in creeks to catching bugs, the Tennessee Department of Agriculture promises.

Other camps are more structured, with an aim to educate campers about subjects like photosynthesis and archeology through farm-related activities. One of those is Hickory Hill Farm in Winchester, a non-profit horse rescue that is actually a network of foster farms housing animals and hosting events. The farm is currently running a campaign while looking for land of their own.

Their camp division is separate from the rescue division though campers will interact with rescue animals. The camp operates on their leased property and was founded in 2016.

“The first year we just kind of did a couple of summer day camps and kind of got our feet wet,” says Shea Hutsenpiller, rescue director and volunteer. “Then we had a fall camp and that one grew. Then in 2017 we had a two-week summer camp and we’ve gotten a lot of response this year.”

Hutsenpiller says that camp is one week this year, and kids get to pick their theme for the week, choosing from mad scientist, space wars (their take on Star Wars), girl power, dude camp and sports camp. In the morning, campers spend time in their chosen camps with planned activities, and the rest of the day is spent doing other activities on the farm.

“They spend time with our rescued animals,” she adds. “We have a community garden that they learn about taking care of plants and weeding and why that’s important and planting things. We try to incorporate an overnight feel, but in a day camp setting. We try to send the kids home tired and worn out and dirty.”

Hutsenpiller went to camps herself as a child, and horseback riding camp was always her favorite.

“There is just a lot you can learn and do with the kids being outside that they don’t get in a regular school setting or at home,” Hutsenpiller points out. “There’s just a lot of lessons that sometimes we don’t even plan to teach that just kind of happen, being outdoors. Being on the farm, there’s things that come up that sometimes you don’t even expect, but I think are good learning opportunities.”

Erica Jameson of Jameson Ranch Camp in California says outdoor camp is beneficial to children in a wide variety of ways, and that brain development, specifically in the pre-frontal cortex, happens at camp, a thought that is backed up by Dr. Tina Payne Bryson for the American Camp Association.

“Our camp has been based on a working ranch since 1942,” Jameson says. “Our program, founded by my grandfather, emphasizes responsibility, and a connection to simplicity. We grow our own food, kids work in the garden, and every structure on site has been built by my family, campers, and staff. We used to raise our own beef for consumption, but USDA rules changed, and we can no longer butcher for our campers.”

For children, who in some cases are generations removed from working farms, it can be incredibly eye-opening to see what life is like unplugged, unpackaged and unprocessed. Hutsenpiller says last year some campers, before working in the community garden, had no idea that tomatoes even came out of the ground.

“That was kind of actually eye opening to me,” she adds. “I think it’s important to teach them where their food actually comes from and how it’s grown. It just kind of creates an appreciation and expands their knowledge on things. It doesn’t just show up to the grocery store.”

And while not all parents will agree how much is too much when it comes to screen time, there are not many who would argue that whatever it is their children are doing, it should be less.

“Kids don’t spend a lot of time outside, and at our camp they are outside the whole time,” she says. “That gets them out from behind a phone or TV screen or computer. It gets them outside and touching things, learning about things, learning about animals. I think that’s really important in today’s society.”

On-farm agriculture camps

The Food Initiative Summer Program

For high school students in grades 9-11 in the Clarksville area, the youth work hard in the sustainable garden and the community at hunger relief organizations for four weeks. Each youth is sponsored by a business so he or she may receive a stipend for their hard work.

Diversity is critical to the unique culture we’re seeking to create. Teenagers are selected from a variety of economic, ethnic, religious and social backgrounds. Information: www.thefoodinitiative.org

Lucky Ladd Farms

The annual farm camp allows campers to explore the wonder and magic of Lucky Ladd Farms including working with

animals, going on pony rides, gardening, playing games, participating in arts and crafts, archery, water play, wilderness exploration and more. Information: www.luckyladdfarms.com

Gentry’s Farm

Each summer the day camp for children in grades 1-6 gets them outdoors and participating in games, crafts, activities and more, all on the farm. Information: www.gentryfarm.com

Hickory Hill Farm

At the outdoor camp kids get to pick their theme for the week from mad scientist, space wars, girl power, sports, a dude camp and a sports camp. In the morning they are in their chosen camps with planned activities to fit the theme, and the rest of the day is spent doing other activities on the farm. Information: www.hickoryhillfarmtn.org

Whippoorwill Farm Day Camp

Kids have the opportunity to enjoy nature to the fullest, splashing in creeks, climbing trees, playing in the dirt and getting up close and personal with animals – and each other. Now in its 46th year offering nature camp opportunities to Middle Tennessee. Information: camp@whippoorwill.com.