If you’re in need of a heart-warming, hilarious and inspiring scene, the view from the upstairs of the Oxbow Farm barn during the summer is just the ticket. Looking out the windows down onto the children’s garden and living playground you’ll see a variety of strange but true occurrences: 6-year-olds carrying massive armloads of plantain, chickweed and comfrey off to the compost after weeding the blueberries; fourth graders creeping slowly and quietly toward an oblivious robin, preteens helping to load the market vans and collecting ninebark seeds to sift in the native plant nursery; preschoolers rolling carrots, sugar snap peas, nasturtium flowers and kale stems into a chard leaf as they make a “6-Plant-Part Burrito,” and instructors laughing wildly while running through the sprinkler, chased by a dozen small shrieking farm campers.
This summer marks Oxbow’s third year of collaboration with the Wilderness Awareness School, and I have had the privilege of directing this summer’s camps. It has been so rewarding to help fuse the nature connection techniques of WAS with the farm curriculum that Sarah Cassidy and others here are so passionate about. This year we strengthened that fusion by staffing each of our camps with two farm interns and two Wilderness Awareness instructors. The result has been an even more hands-on experience for the kids. Kids learn caretaking through daily visits to the radish seeds they planted, or the cabbage transplants they arranged in rows. They learn that plantain can heal their cuts and that sun tea doesn’t come from a box. They learn about interdependence as they create bicycle blender popsicles (with berries they just picked) as a team, or as they make their way through the Three Sisters Spiral of corn, beans and squash. They learn to encounter both fear and excitement as they make the trek out to the muddy marsh or to the beaver bank den in the Oxbow Lake, or all the way past the Owl tree to the river.
My favorite, though, is Friday afternoons. I must admit I’ve had to choke back tears once or twice this summer as parents arrive and enter into the Camp Farmer’s Market that their kids have created. Kids run to the stall that their group has created with care, intention and giddiness. They proudly show off the carrots that they picked and washed and bunched themselves, or the dozens of blackberries they resisted eating, or special “crystals” they found and collected. Crayon signs show what price is requested for each item: a chicken dance, a funny story, a trip through the treacherous tractor obstacle course. Parents and siblings laugh, chat, dance and jump, with their reward being a bag of organic produce and a child who has truly contributed to the creation of something meaningful. Thank you kids, thank you veggies, and thank you Oxbow!
The response from parents has been rewarding as well, these comments sum up why we do what we do!
“My child is trying vegetables at home that he never would have before!”
“My daughter covered herself in mud—she has gained a sense of confidence outside that she didn’t have before.”
Camp director Soupy