On Monday, June 17, the Farm and Garden Camp held its first event ever, starting in Red Lodge and sponsored by the Red Lodge Food Partnership Council. It was run by Food Corps volunteer Alyssa Charney and continued the entire week through Friday, June 21. “It was a big success; the kids loved it,” she said enthusiastically. “We were planning for 15 children but welcomed all 17 who signed up. Many were those we worked with during the school year. We love the continuity of continuing the education.”
Charney said they started the day in the old Roosevelt School Youth Garden, broke for lunch at the Red Lodge Community Church and were then bussed out in the afternoon to Dick Espensheid’s Wholesome Foods farm in Bridger. “The church was wonderful, letting us use their kitchen for a week. We had great volunteers for initial food prep but also had the children help with lunch preparation.” Charney is determined to spread the message to children about the field to table purpose of growing food and feels nothing beats hands on learning. She was sensitive to her young charges and balanced the day with ample time to play.
The children attended from 9-4 each day and learning methods were appropriate for each age group. They planted seeds and seedlings, journaled about their day and had enough varied activities and games to interest them all. Keeping children active and interested was challenging but Charney has been working hard at being creative throughout the year visiting the classrooms to teach and inspiring them in the gardens. “They had their ‘plant buddies’, they got involved, observed and took ownership,” she said proudly of the children’s dedication to learning about agriculture. “They were surprised at how much weeding was involved and how important it was in organic growing. They were delighted to learn about 'good bugs' such as lady bugs. They ran around excitedly on ‘scavenger hunts’ to find potato beetles in the fields and ran through sprinklers when it got hot.”
Although mixing in lots of fun, her classes covered serious topics such as irrigation and water conservation, plant families, crop rotation, weeds and pests and composting. The last day at the farm, the children were introduced to livestock from poultry to cattle. “They understood that process too, that the end product is hamburger,” she said with a smile. All in all, Charney said the children loved it. She hopes it will become an annual event although this is her last year in service to this community.
“The children are already asking if it will be repeated again next year.” She said even parents were showing up at the farm to observe and their reaction has been very positive. “It is my hope that the next Food Corps volunteer will carry it on.”