Green and Simple: Summer Camp at Arcadia Farms
Still exploring summer camp options? This hands-on farming camp connects kids with food, nature and lots of outdoor fun.
Rumors abound that local families who are on top of their game have their summer plans locked and loaded by the end of February. If you are like me and have not yet solidified your plans, here is a great green summer camp worth exploring: Arcadia Farm Camp.
In the southern expanse of Alexandria that is part of Fairfax County, lies Woodlawn estate, a 126-acre property that was originally part of George Washington’s Mount Vernon. Offering a reprieve from the collage of shopping centers, gas stations and office buildings that define the Route 1 landscape, the stately grounds, stables, buildings, and the Frank Lloyd Wright Pope-Leighey House are worthy of their own green escape column. Today the focus is on the new summer camp program being offered by Arcadia Farm, which resides on the grounds of Woodlawn.
Early one morning last week, I visited the farm to get the scoop about the program from Liz Whitehurst, farm education coordinator for the Arcadia Center for Sustainable Food & Agriculture. Arcadia is a non-profit organization whose mission is to “improve the health of our community, the viability of local farmers, and preserve our environment for future generations by combining education about healthy food and its sources with better logistical connections between local farmers and the urban and suburban core of the region.”
Arcadia fulfills this mission through its summer camp, offered for the first time this July, where kids will experience first-hand how food gets from “farm to table.”
As I passed through the entrance gate to Woodlawn and slowly proceeded up the meandering roadway that leads to the estate, the hustle and bustle of the Route 1 corridor melted away. I opened my windows and listened to the birds, whose calls wafted as they traversed the canopy of trees. The crunch of the gravel beneath my tires as I entered the parking area signaled the transition from red lights and honking horns to the serene gardens where I met Liz.
Liz’s youthful enthusiasm is inspiring and contagious. Not long after we began talking, I could have easily chucked my notebook and camera, and started pulling weeds. Her commitment to the program and to connecting kids with nature was clear as she shared about the program and about her own experience working on various farms in the D.C. Metro area and beyond.
Roughly two acres of once carefully manicured lawn-turned-farmland is now in its second growing season at the hands of farm Director Maureen Moodie. This year, two additional acres at the front of the property, visible from Route 1, are being prepared for their first growing season.
Of the two acres in the upper garden, one plot is dedicated to the Groundhog Garden which is used for youth education programs and includes 10 raised beds, rotating vegetable plots, and a pollinator garden. Some beds are still being prepared, while others are nurturing spinach, carrots, herbs, potatoes, and strawberry plants. Small white and yellow butterflies pranced from plant to plant and a garden gnome peered over a raised bed as cardinals played among the trees.
The three remaining plots will feed the Mobile Market, the DC Farm-to-School Network, and other initiatives. Through this camp program, Liz says she wants to “make the connection between the farm and food more tangible and get kids involved for a sustained period.”
During the two one-week sessions (July 16-20 and July 23-27), campers ranging in age from 6 to 10 years old will gain hands-on experience as they work the farm and engage in related activities designed to help them understand and appreciate where their food comes from, why sustainable agriculture is important, and the role pollinators play in the process, among other things.
This camp is not for the neat and tidy! Children will dig, plant, water, weed, and participate in the daily routines of the farm, including composting and collecting eggs, and communing with the resident chickens and ducks. But, it’s not all down and dirty work either (as much fun as that can be!). Children will also learn about and re-create some of the historic traditions once practiced at Woodlawn. And, they’ll get to harvest food and learn to prepare healthy and nutritious snacks.
In the metro area, where pressure for kids to not only succeed, but to excel is ridiculously high and causes immense stress for many families, it is utterly refreshing to find a camp that gets back to the basics: letting kids engage in and learn through natural play. And what’s more natural than farming the land, engaging in harvest, and then preparing and feasting on your bounty.
The Arcadia program is the culmination of several different efforts and ventures designed to build connections between farms, food and communities, especially disadvantaged communities. You can learn more about their efforts and opportunities to get involved and contribute at Arcadia Center for Sustainable Food & Agriculture. You can learn more about the camp program at Arcadia Farm Camp.
Although the trek from Old Town is a bit out of the way for us, this unique experience would be well worth the trip ... if we can just make the dates work!
Whether or not you are in the market for a summer camp, all are welcome to enjoy Family Fun Day at the farm on June 16, 1 p.m. - 5 p.m.