Growing Food and Leaders at Camp!

When is the last time you put your hands in the dirt to dig a potato, held a baby piglet, or maybe had a baby goat (kid) walk on your back? At camp, these are some of the activities and learning opportunities our campers are able to experience. Our Farm program was started in 1982 by Dale Robertson, farmer extraordinaire, and provides delicious, fresh food for all of us at Gwynn Valley thanks to his vision for a farm-to-table program. Campers can choose The Farm as an activity where they help harvest  vegetables from the garden, help to care for our animals, and learn a little about veterinary practices. It is so satisfying to pick broccoli or lettuce in the morning and have it on the table for dinner!

Every winter, seeds and young plants are ordered as we prepare and plan for spring planting. Dale starts plowing the soil in early March and watches the weather closely to plan when crops will go in. It’s always good to have the right amount of rain and sunshine, although, in our area, this can be very unpredictable. Each spring, our incredible maintenance team and Dale spend a couple of days a week planting and preparing The Farm so that we are ready to harvest our earliest crops for our first group of campers!

In the middle of March, Dale, Jeff, and Chris began this year’s planting of 15 rows of potatoes, followed by cabbage, lettuce, broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, onions, leeks, and sweet corn in the upper and lower fields while the tunnel house contains a variety of herbs, eggplant, tomatoes, peppers, and cucumbers that are growing nicely. Next Monday, providing the weather cooperates, they will do the second big round of planting, consisting of green beans, squash, more sweet corn, and other vegetables. My mouth is already starting to water just thinking about eating those fresh vegetables this summer prepared by our incredible kitchen staff, led by Megan Lambert, our wonderful Kitchen Director and chef! During the 2021 summer, we grew and harvested over 10,000 pounds of vegetables. I wonder what that number will be this year?

Working on The Farm helps our campers develop more responsibility as they care for the many animals that call The Farm home. Baby calves will be arriving the week of April 18 and will need to be bottle-fed twice a day throughout the summer to gain the strength and nourishment they will need before being turned out to pasture in August. It’s a lot of work to feed all the calves so our maintenance team will be counting down the days until our campers arrive to share in this responsibility. While we have an exact date for our calves arrival, our goats are a bit trickier, though they should give birth starting in early June and we hope to have lots of kids our campers can play with. Last summer 12 goats were born at camp: 5 sets of twins and two singles. We are hoping for at least 12 this summer. Besides 12 goats, we also had 13 piglets born in July and so many chicks hatched throughout the summer that we lost count. 

With a large flock of chickens comes lots of eggs. Our campers collect these eggs twice a day and those that aren’t put in an incubator to hatch go directly to our kitchen for our bakeside to use in all of our delicious breads, and desserts. Currently, we are collecting about 4 dozen eggs a day, which is too many for our year-round team to eat, so we regularly take eggs to our Local Bread of Life kitchen and to the Sharing House, both non-profits here in Brevard that work to provide meals and food for people in our community. Our oldest campers (those in our Young Leaders program) learn about service each session as they work at The Farm to harvest vegetables which they then take to the Bread of Life.

Playing at The Farm helps our campers develop more responsibility and broadens their life experiences, as well as serving our camp and the local community. This program area, along with many others at camp, helps our young people develop leadership skills while having tons of fun!

Watching the plants grow at The Farm reminds us of the important work we do at camp – growing young leaders!