Nature’s Farm Camp: Making Good Food Real — and Fun — For Chicago Kids

Nature’s Farm Camp is an overnight camp that gives Chicago-area children hands-on experience learning about and cooking Good Food, while enjoying outdoor adventures on a farm in central Illinois. Nature’s Farm Camp also was an exhibitor at FamilyFarmed’s recent Good Food Festival & Conference. It is a joint project of Elena Marre, owner of The Kids’ Table, a culinary school for children located in Chicago’s Lakeview neighborhood, and Tim Magner, who formerly headed Truck Farm Chicago, another project about food growing that was aimed at children. Magner contributed the following article about Nature’s Farm Camp and its upcoming 2016 summer season.

by Tim Magner, Nature’s Farm Camp, guest contributor

Counselor Sarah: “Hey, Aidan, where are you headed?”

Camper Aidan: “To get a carrot”

Aidan was a carrot-loving camper during Nature's Farm Camp's first year in 2015.

Aidan was a carrot-loving camper during Nature’s Farm Camp’s first year in 2015.

No matter what Aidan was doing at our Nature’s Farm Camp last summer, he always had time to harvest carrots, one or two at a time. He’d walk to the camp gardens, find a big one to pull up, then wash off the dirt, eat the carrot, feed the greens to the goats or chickens, and return to what he had been doing.

Camper Jack: “So, Melvin, you don’t need to know math do you?”

Farmer Melvin: “Yup, I use math throughout the year, like to count seeds and figure out what I’m planting where and when. I calculate expenses and income, too.”

“Can I have more of the roasted broccoli that I harvested and cooked, please?”

“Can I have more of the roasted broccoli that I harvested and cooked, please?”

Melvin farmed nearby and delivered just-harvested sweet corn to camp. Melvin got Jack thinking long and hard about what, up to that point, had seemed like a viable career choice.

Princess: “You’re telling me that, if I eat some of this, it will help keep mosquitos away.”

Farmer Margaret: “Let’s all give it a go. Everyone ready? On the count of three, everyone put the clove in your mouth and start chewing. 1- 2 -3…GO!”

Margaret and a handful of campers proceed to chomp on raw garlic in an effort to ward off mosquitos. It went over far better than you can imagine.

The experiences took place in 2015, the inaugural year of our overnight camp that immerses Chicago-area kids in a fantastic food-and-outdoor adventure. In a world where kids are bombarded with hyper-processed foods loaded with fat, sugar and salt, we show them something different — and better — in a beautiful natural environment that connects them with where food comes from.

Elena Marre of Nature's Farm Camp — an overnight summer camp in the Chicago region that reconnects children with food and nature — chats with a woman and child at FamilyFarmed's Good Food Festival in Chicago March 26.

Elena Marre of Nature’s Farm Camp — an overnight summer camp in the Chicago region that reconnects children with food and nature — chats with a woman and child at FamilyFarmed’s Good Food Festival in Chicago March 26.

At Nature’s Farm Camp, kids are deeply involved in all aspects of food. We make time for wilderness exploration, nature crafts, star-gazing and s’mores around the campfire, but we also celebrate local food. The kids forage, harvest and cook all the meals from scratch, and take part in workshops where we’ll make sauerkraut or mushroom logs.

The campers meet visiting farmers and perform daily chores, such as working with the resident farmer and caring for the chickens, ducks, pigs, goats and sheep. They even milk the camp cow.

It’s fun. But we think it’s more than fun. It’s about kids learning through doing, developing creativity and building problem-solving and communication skills. It’s about them comprehending how the lessons they learn in the classroom, such as math-inquiring Camper Jack above, teach skills that are necessary even in the physical and outdoors world of farming.

Child farmer/cooks warmed up for the talent show at the 2015 Nature's Farm Camp.

Child farmer/cooks warmed up for the talent show at the 2015 Nature’s Farm Camp.

Our aim is for each child to leave with a sense of accomplishment and with smiles that last for years. We just happen to do it in an environment where they also get to experience how fantastic the Good Food movement is.

We are accepting registrations for the 2016 Nature’s Farm Camp, which will be held at Antiquity Oaks Farm in Cornell, Illinois, about 100 miles southwest of Chicago. You are welcome to visit the farm and learn more about our camp at our Open House on Saturday, May 7 from 11:00 a.m.-2:00 p.m. RSVP at info@naturesfarmcamp.com.

Participants in this year's Nature's Farm Camp at Antiquity Oaks in Cornell, Illinois, will get up close with the friendly farm animals there.

Participants in this year’s Nature’s Farm Camp at Antiquity Oaks in Cornell, Illinois, will get up close with the friendly farm animals there.

See you at Camp?

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