Name of Camp: Nature’s Farm Camp
Type of Camp (Overnight/day): Overnight
Location: 100 miles SW of Chicago
Tell us a little about your camp?
We are a week-long, sleep away camp where kids are immersed in great food and outdoor adventure, while helping to run the farm. There are a lot of farm animals at camp - mostly chickens, ducks, goats, sheep and pigs. Some of the farm animals have been bottle-fed, so they are friendly. The goats love to be hugged.
What are some things that unique to your camp?
We think regenerative agriculture and local food systems are solutions worth being a part of. So, we put food at the center of camp. Most everything we eat is from on-site or great farmers we know, who may also come visit camp. The kids are involved in cooking the meals for camp, including the harvesting. For sure, kids get to experience different tastes and textures and that’s great. Kids also learn to understand systems (how everything’s connected) by being a part of it.
What is a typical day like for a camper?
Campers get choice in activities, but, they all do twice daily chores. Farm chores, mostly taking care of animals, happen before breakfast and before dinner. We have professional teachers so kids spend time in the building workshop and art studio doing projects, either collaboratively or on their own. I say ‘in’ the workshop, but it nearly all happens outside. The farm hostess (the ‘CEO) also teaches homesteading workshops. Like Camp Stomping Ground, we want kids to ‘opt in’ on their activities, so at the beginning of each week, the kids tell us what they want to do and we design the choices around their interests.
How many staff and campers do you host in the summer?
We’re limited to twenty campers per week, for five weeks. It’s not our site, but the farm owners have been incredibly generous in sharing their site with us. We joke that we help them with running the farm for five weeks, but ultimately it means more work for them. The first summer, we had a staff of six. We were so naive! Our team now totals nine people, so we even get to take breaks :)
What is the philosophy of your camp?
For us, camp is about fun, but it’s far more than just recreation. We want campers to leave as competent, confident problem solvers. We also understand our camp is only a week, but we try to design in activities which nurture collaboration and communication skills. Who's to say you can’t learn things while having fun? We think the school system ought to look more like camp.
What are a growing challenges of your camp?
It’s really difficult to give kids a chance to explore and experiment in the kitchen, while also making sure we get awesome meals done on time. Having kids make pizza dough or pesto is great, but it requires lots of patience and time. Great cooking instructors are HUGE. It takes lots of talent and energy. We’re going to use the second outdoor kitchen more this summer.
We’ve learned a lot, but still have much to learn.
Plus, we’re at capacity at the existing site.
What are some things your camp does really well?
We don’t see diversity as something to be tolerated. We embrace it (and it was great to learn that Michael Brandwein also supports this philosophy). We want and seek out kids who represent different cultures, races and economic classes. We want to be a mixing pot and we talk about about it. We also take part in the Title XX program, which has been fantastic.
How long has the camp been with ACA Illinois?
This may sound crazy, but when we started, we didn’t know about ACA Illinois. It wasn’t until after our first season that we discovered the value of ACA. Our camp wouldn’t still exist without ACA Illinois. It was unbelievably heartwarming to find that there was a rich camp community so willing to help rookies like us. I was blown away the first time I went to Midstates. I could ask questions to every person there. Everyone at ACA IL and other camps, like House in the Wood and The Chicago Botanic Garden share their best practices to help improve the industry. Awesome.
How long has your camp been accredited?
Both our staff and our board of directors want us to be accredited. We use the standards as guides and we plan to take the plunge in 2019.