Every summer at Gwynn Valley we serve hundreds of campers and staff with food from our self-sustaining farm, and this past year was no different. We grow tomatoes, lettuce, broccoli, corn, carrots, green beans, and potatoes, to name a few. Some of the newer vegetables we have grown are kale, and wax beans. We also grow herbs such as chives, and basil. Our campers get to harvest these vegetables as part of our farm program. Once the vegetables are picked by the campers and weighed by the farm staff, they are loaded onto the farm truck and brought up to the kitchen by our wonderful farm program leaders. We will typically grow around 25,000 pounds of vegetables each summer which are all taken to our kitchen and used in upcoming meals. When we have a bumper crop, we also donate produce to the Bread of Life here in Brevard.
While we at Gwynn Valley take great pride in our farm to table program, we also make many of our jams, breads, and pastries from scratch. This side of our kitchen is relatively new, as we started this practice within the last four years. The mastermind behind this part of our service is Chef Megan, a professor at Johnson and Wales University in Charlotte, NC. Thanks to her, our relationship with JWU has grown and strengthened. In the past four years, we have had 18 staff members who either attend or work at JWU.
Our kitchen staff works hard in order to ensure our campers and staff eat meals that are balanced, healthy, and have at least one item on the table that is homemade and/or a product of our farm program. While the majority of the kitchen staff are either bakers or prep cooks, the kitchen is able to run smoothly all due to the leadership and guidance of our Kitchen Director, Chef Ashton. He’s the one who plans the menu every week incorporating the various vegetables we get from the farm, ensures the food orders are complete, works with our international staff to plan meals for international days that are true to the country’s culture, and keeps the entire kitchen organized.
We have found that through the changing times, more and more children don’t know where their food comes from. Some of our campers are surprised to learn that potatoes grow in the ground, or tomatoes and green beans are from a vine. While it is thrilling to teach our campers that their food doesn’t magically appear in the grocery stores, it is even more rewarding to see campers try new foods because they helped to pick the vegetables that make up the dish. There’s one story that comes to mind in particular. Several years ago, there was a camper who didn’t like green beans at home and had no interest in even trying them. But one day, we served green beans for lunch and he was willing to try them, not because they were cooked differently or in any special way. No. But because he helped to pick the green beans, and he found he really liked them. It brings such joy to our staff, hearing from parents of campers that when they go home, they are willing to try new foods that they learned to like while at camp.
What makes these moments even more special, if that is possible, is when we hear it from the campers themselves. Last week, Anne and I went to Raleigh, NC for a home show. It was fun to visit with new and returning campers and share stories about camp. One of the best parts was when Anne asked the returning campers what their favorite part of camp was, in response two said “THE FOOD!” From the ground to our table – DELICIOUS!