Connecting Campers to Nature
By Nathaniel Eisen
The Torah commands us to wait three years before harvesting from fruit trees. As we celebrate Tu B’shevat, the New Year for trees that marks the three years of waiting, there are still several months left to experience before spring arrives. But when spring does come, the camp staff and volunteers of Ramah Outdoor Adventure become busy preparing the seeds that our campers plant, tend to and harvest for food during summer at camp. Our farming program at Ramah Outdoor Adventure is a key component of our camp’s mission to educate campers on the origins of their food.
We believe that focusing on food is a way to leave campers with more insight on the way we value and appreciate our most basic needs. “If you really want to influence the character development of youth, you need to start with the thing we do most often while we’re awake, which is eat, “ Rabbi Bock said.
Since we grow our crops at 8000 feet, we are faced with a unique set of challenges. The growing season is extremely short, starting in Mid May and ending in late September, and the temperature is not hot enough for many favorite summer crops like tomatoes or peppers to grow. The soil is lower in nutrients and requires many additives. Our ability to successfully harvest crops given these conditions, makes the experience all the more rewarding.
Some of the crops that mature just in time for campers to enjoy them, include leafy greens, radishes, kohlrabi and herbs. Almost every day of Kayitz 2013, our salad bar included radishes and lettuce from our farm.
We started our farm from scratch in the summer of 2010 and since then, the farm has increased in size from one raised bed to nearly a quarter acre of land. Summer 2013’s head of farming, Nadav Slovin, was so ecstatic to see how far the farm has progressed and has grown to where we can feed our community. “I’m excited that [the farm] grew and I think the summer proved that there’s greater potential for growth in the future to make the farm a significant contributor to the kitchen and play a significant role in the camp,” Nadav said. “More than anything, [doubling the size of the farm this summer] showed that that can happen in a really quick time.”
The option to participate in farming became one of the most popular activities at ROA this past summer. Campers who love getting their hands dirty, as well as playing with our farm animals (which this year included chickens, male, female and baby goats, and alpacas) got the chance to participate in every step of the growing process.
Frieda K., 13, found seeing the process of growing food h from start to finish very rewarding. “I really liked digging the beds and planting the vegetables and then eating them at the end of camp,” Frieda said. “It felt really good, like I was making the food that everyone else was eating.”
Our staff, including Nadav, found ways to tie in Jewish learning to farming in a meaningful way.
“[There is] a vast history of Jewish farming that tries to take one of the most everyday and common practices of growing our own food, and sustaining our lives, and saying, ‘how can we do this in a way that treats our animals well, and respects all of our different vegetables, such that each of them has a place, and can really deepen our relationship with other people and with god,” Nadav said.
Education about food happens in many arenas at camp besides the farm. Food was the main focus of the daily limmud (learning) that our solelim (rising 7th and 8th graders) did this past summer.
Last summer’s food educator, Chavah Goldstein, focused her educational efforts on the sourcing of food, teaching kids on how food is grown and where it comes from. Chavah used signs at the entrance to the dining hall as one way to educate campers about the land and water usage of growing corn, how potato plants grow and nutrients in the foods presented in our dining hall.
Whether teaching campers about the raising of animals and kosher slaughter or the way we harvest and nurture crops, we continue to inform everyone who comes together in our dining hall on the wonders of natural food resources. Campers are left to internalize the lesson imparted by the Torah—that we must be mindful about how we grow and harvest our food.