Everyone has begun settling into the usual Camp routines, several of which involve coming together and working hard in our garden. The tasks are seemingly endless. There is always weeding to be done. Despite a few thunderstorms here and there, the plants almost always need water. New walkways must be wood chipped and morning glories need to be trained to climb up the garden tipis. We have seeds to start in the greenhouse, greens to transplant, carrots to thin, and herbs to harvest. But today, despite the ever-growing list of things to do in our own gardens, a group of campers and counselors ventured off our property to help others with what can be daunting task—growing food.
Our first stop was Lake Placid Elementary School where campers toured the garden and then got right to work. They trimmed chard, thinned kale, weeded an entire bed and planted broccoli, rosemary, dill, and parsley. They watered, scattered wildflower seeds, harvested garlic scapes, and painted beautiful watercolors to document their favorite parts of the garden. And that was all before lunch!
We picnicked along the Ausable River across from the Keene community garden before heading to Keene Central School. In Keene’s school garden, kids gathered pine needles and mulched beds, sifted compost, and took a break to read aloud a story about a dandelion seed before weeding and watering. The work in Keene was cut a little short as dark clouds rolled in and thunder began to rumble, but as we gathered tools and ran to the van through the rain, several campers were already asking about when we could return to the school gardens to do more work. (I reminded them that we have plenty of weeding and watering in our own garden, but they were less thrilled with that prospect.)
I do hope we have a chance to go back. It’s important for campers to have the opportunity to connect to the local community within which Treetops is nestled. Campers gained a sense of pride in their ability to apply and share their newfound knowledge. After spending time in our gardens, what they have learned (even in just a few days, for some new campers) is impressive. For example, how to identify wood sorrel in a mess of weeds, the definition and importance of companion planting, and learning how to gently transplant a seedling.
They were excited to find plants in the local community gardens that we also have in our own, and were curious about some of the differences. These trips offered a chance to talk about camper’s own school gardens. Some explained why they their schools weren’t growing food, and brainstormed ways in which they might be able to start.
In reflecting on the day in the gardens, I was surprised (and quite pleased) to learn that none of the campers ever questioned what we were doing helping out at other community gardens. It seemed totally natural to tend a garden that doesn’t belong to us, to plant vegetables for a group of students and teachers who we don’t know. But even in these new gardens, there was a sense of familiarity among campers—a comfort in recognizing the tools and plants that they already knew. This work outside of Treetops not only brought us closer to the local community, but to our own farm as well.