Readers, we're excited to welcome Julie Hirshfield, the Education Director of the Rio Grande Community Farm (RGCF), to the Environmental Forum!
Julie's passion for sustainable agriculture and local food stems from time she's spent on small farms and gardens in Arkansas, Lesotho, Southern Africa, and New Mexico. Before coming to the RGCF, she worked as an elementary school substitute teacher for the Albuquerque Public Schools (APS) and as an urban planner for a local consulting firm. Julie joined RGCF in 2011, and develops vibrant educational programming—including field trips, classroom visits, and Farm Camp—for Albuquerque youth.
The RGCF Camp was developed in response to growing community needs to provide meaningful outdoor education to elementary school children in Albuquerque. Wells Fargo is honored to support this organization's work, and we are thrilled to share this wonderful story of how an early introduction to organic farming can have a lasting impact! (—KVT)
Life on a working organic farm helps to open children's eyes to the wonders and possibilities of the natural world and their own potential. Beyond the wonderment and exhilaration of hiking alongside a traditional acequia, harvesting garden vegetables, and creating art and crafts from natural materials, our community educators provide guidance and instruction on the environment, health and nutrition, and business education. Through age-specific activities, children learned about organic and sustainable farming, ecology, natural history, and energy systems and cycles. The unique teaching techniques of the Rio Grande Community Farm Camp struck a balance between scientific investigation and feelings of wonder, awareness, and appreciation.
The RGCF Camp took place at the Los Ranchos Agri-Nature Center. The facility includes three large classroom areas, two kitchen areas, ample office space, multiple bathrooms, outdoor classroom space, and is located in short walking distance to the Rio Grande Community Farm Community Garden, where the education garden is located.
A total of 62 children in grades K-5 participated in this year's program, which was offered as four one-week sessions during the month of June 2012. Each day of camp included physical and creative activities like planting, cultivating, or harvesting vegetables, and most classes were conducted outdoors in the gardens. Each week, students planned and planted their own gardens, and they've been invited to continue to work in and harvest from their gardens throughout the summer!
Noontime brought a chance to eat lunch and listen to a story under the shade of a giant cottonwood tree. In the afternoon, campers participated in several themed activities designed to introduce them to a variety of foods, natural products and experiences.
For example, some campers learned where each ingredient on a pizza comes from by participating in Pizza Camp. Campers learned how to grind wheat for flour, used fresh tomatoes to make pizza sauce and basil to make pesto, harvested herbs and vegetables for toppings, and made mozzarella cheese. The campers baked pizzas from scratch and hosted a pizza party for their families and farm staff.
Other campers were introduced to a variety of bugs and insects, reptiles, and birds during Birds, Bees, & Other Creepy Crawlies Camp. Each day highlighted a different creature and local experts explained their animal's ecological importance to the farm. Highlights of the week occurred when campers learned about bees; and were able to observe closed hives and have a local honey tasting, hawks and owls; and were able to have a one-on-one experience with a Red-tailed Hawk and Burrowing Owl and dissected owl pellets, vermicomposting; and constructed their own small worm composting bin to take home on the final day at camp.
At Lotions and Potions Camp, campers learned to make a variety of natural products with locally-available ingredients. Each day of the week, campers created a new take-away such as lip balm, lotion bars, candles, and bath fizzies. Campers took home a handmade basket with their creations on the final day at camp.
And at Farm Stand Camp, campers were introduced to what it takes to get the food we eat from the farm to our plates. Campers spent the week planting, maintaining, and harvesting in the fields, packaged and priced the produce, created marketing materials and advertised the farm stand, and then worked at the farm stand at the Los Ranchos Agri-Nature Center. Campers collectively chose to donate the $250 profit from their farm stand to the ALS Foundation.
Each week, students spent approximately 10 hours in the garden planting, cultivating, and harvesting fresh, organic produce. In addition, they spent from 5-10 hours in the kitchen preparing and cooking food. Based on parental comments, we made a huge impact on these children over the course of the month—they encouraged their families to eat healthier food, to cook at home as a family, and to plant their own gardens and buy locally-grown, organic food—we not only met our goals, but exceeded them! I truly feel like we've made a difference in the lives of these families.
Overall, Farm Camp was a HUGE success! I received amazing feedback from parents and children—over the course of the month, I got MANY thank you notes, lots of hugs, and even some tears of joy and gratitude. I couldn't have asked for a better first year at Farm Camp, and am already planning away and excited about what next summer will bring.