Farm-to-Fork Goes to Camp

Rocklands Farm Not Your Typical Summer Camp

Maryland farm-to-fork camp is more about teaching kids the production side of agriculture than it is agritourism. (DTN/Progressive Farmer photo by Tom Gralish)

Canoeing. Relay races. Scary stories around a fire. That's summer camp. But, not for campers at Rocklands Farm's farm-to-fork camp in Maryland. Each year, this diversified farm hosts a summer day camp where young farmers get up close with cattle, hogs, layers and broilers, sheep and goats, and produce. It's both a lesson in legacy and agriculture.

Greg Glenn returned to this land after studying ag economics at Virginia Tech. His parents had purchased the place, but Glenn saw opportunity here and started Rocklands Farm in 2010 with his buddy and cofounder, Shawn Eubank. Young and enthusiastic, the two saw promise in the rundown historic property, ideally located just 30 miles from Washington, D.C., on Montgomery County's 93,000-acre Agricultural Reserve.

Committed to a sustainable food-to-table process, Rocklands was established with a holistic approach. Cows are grass-fed. Chickens are pasture-raised. Produce is grown under no-till. As the operation grew, Rocklands Farm diversified, transforming into a sprawling enterprise -- a small winery, market, live summer music evenings, a meat CSA (community-supported agriculture) and a strong community engagement/education program.

"We have a passion for presenting production agriculture to people in a very tangible, interactive way," Greg explained. "We have modeled our farm to accommodate that passion. We have chosen our method and our story because it fits with our personality."

Anna, farm education manager, joined the team at Rocklands when she and Greg married. She combined her education background from Cal Poly, in San Luis Obispo, California, and experience from two years working at a community farm in Miwani, Kenya, to develop curriculum for Rocklands' day visits and a weeklong camp. "The program reinforces what is being taught in the classroom," Greg explained. He and Anna see community engagement as a direct way to generate value and opportunity, while creating additional income sources. "When done properly, ag education can be a significant part of farm revenue," he continued.

EDUCATING YOUNGER FARMERS

When the summer's crop of young farmers arrives at camp, some as young as third grade, they quickly learn this is not your typical outdoor camp.

"We immerse kids in the production side of agriculture instead of creating agritourism," Greg said. "Our angle is that we want kids to learn: This is where food comes from on a local, sustainable level."

Anna added, "One girl told us, 'If I were at home, I would probably just be playing video games'. We love to see the shy kids who seem really apprehensive start loving it and to hear their parents say they can't stop talking about it."

Daily camp activities not only capture the general process of growing, harvesting and selling food from seed, but also educate on the specifics of soil composition, seedling care, spacing, organic pest and weed management, cover-crop planting, companion plants and peak harvest times.

"In the last year, we've had guest speakers, including a beekeeper, commodity crops farmer and land-preservation experts," Greg said. Young farmer campers also help raise pastured pork, chicken and beef cattle. They get up close and personal with egg layers from chicks to slaughter. They see firsthand how to manage pastures and control runoff. They also learn the importance of food safety. On some topics such as animal harvest, the team at Rocklands Farm takes cues from the kids. While the young farmers may participate in the harvest and processing of a chicken, for example, legally, all other animals must be processed at a USDA site.

"We don't want to skirt around the issues," Greg explained. "What you see from the kids is that they connect so well with the conversation. We really reach them. When you make a food choice, you're participating with that animal's life. It should be done with deep respect and reverence. It should not be taken lightly."

Farm-fresh meals are part of the program, too. Food for lunches is picked, prepped and prepared as a part of the campers' daily activities.

"The most rewarding part for me is seeing how free kids become when they spend a week outside," Anna said. "It seems like a whole new world is opening up to them. It's kind of chaotic sometimes, when they're doing prep cooking, etc. ... but it is also surprising how little cooking they've done, and it is a pleasure to teach them how to crack eggs and cut veggies."

THE GRAND FINALE

On the last day, Rocklands' young farmers stand alongside more seasoned producers at the farm's market. Children show off all they've learned. They tackle any question a consumer might have. What makes grass-fed beef healthier? What kind of pesticides do you use? How long ago did you harvest these beans? Which of your tomatoes are best for sauce?

"Friday is where it all culminates," Greg said. "They're learning the technical words and concepts all week, but they recall it on Friday in the market as they learn about marketing."

Aside from investing in the next generation, Greg laughed and said he has his own reasons for putting the camp together every year. "We have a secret goal to convince every kid to want to become a farmer. We want to inspire them to connect and be involved in their food, whether that means making conscious choices about where it comes from, humane treatment of animals or planting their own gardens."

Added Anna: "I love it when some of the children go away saying, 'Maybe I want to be a farmer.'"

CREATING A CAMP

Here's how Rocklands Farm creates a meaningful experience for its young farmers while incorporating the camp into the farm's business model:

-- SUPPORT SCHOOL CURRICULUM. There's a lot to learn on the farm. The challenge for schoolteachers is to find time to get students out of the classroom. Anna Glenn uses her knowledge of education standards and objectives to show teachers how visits help meet specific required curriculum goals. She also talks directly with educators to find out what topics are most useful to them. State grade-level learning objectives and standards are found on many school county or district websites, or at the Department of Education.

-- DON'T PUSH THE AGENDA. Rocklands Farm is one operation contributing to the rising number of small farms in the U.S. The Glenns recognize that in order to meet the world's food needs and diverse price points, farms must come in all shapes and sizes. "We don't bash industrial farming. It's not helpful for the conversation," Greg Glenn said. Instead, Rocklands Farm provides a way to approach farming with the understanding that what works for them is not the only way.

-- THINK LIKE A THIRD-GRADER. Anna tailors farm visits for specific interests and educational goals, but she presents the information in an accessible way to all ages. Both the young farmers who attend the summer camp and adult groups, such as the World Bank, experience many of the same activities. Anna said demonstrations, activities and conversations appropriate to elementary-aged kids are an effective way to launch concepts for adolescents and adults, too.

-- CHECK YOUR COVERAGE. Greg stresses the importance of camp safety and said anyone interested in starting one needs to be aware of liability issues. Often, a local insurance agent can match you with the necessary coverage based on expected additional exposure.

(ES/)