Kids gardening is one of the season's hottest summer camp themes.
Writing Adventures Summer Camp at Longwood Gardens
Kids gardening is a natural summer camp theme. Many local summer programs in Philadelphia, South Jersey and Delaware use their bucolic campuses to go even greener than they already are, integrating camper-tended summer vegetable gardens into their learn-through-fun activity mix.
As they nurture a garden, kids develop a sense of caretaking responsibility while they increase eco-awareness about the green stuff on their plates. That’s the purpose of the summer vegetable garden at Fiddlehead Day Camp at Fernbrook Farms Environmental Education Center in Chesterfield, NJ. “We want kids to take in the knowledge that growing food is hard work,” says public programs coordinator Jenna Collins. “We want them to take in the knowledge that growing food is hard work and that other factors affect what they eat. If it’s a bad season for strawberries, for example, then they won’t see as many strawberries that year.”
Fiddlehead campers grow fruit, vegetables and herbs, as well as tend a tea garden. Kids' gardening is built in to the daily schedule. “We have morning chores, such as checking for insects and planting seeds,” Collins says. “We also beautify the space — kids decorated stones to label each section of the garden, and we laid bricks to make a path in it.”
Farm-to-fork camp food
After they’ve put in the work, campers get a tangible taste of the fruits of their labor. The herbs and veggies grown in the summer vegetable garden at Diamond Ridge Camps in Jamison, PA are served in the camp salad bar or used in culinary arts sessions.
Brandi Carnivale-Anderson, director of Liberty Lake Day Camp in Bordentown, NJ, says her camp’s 25-crop garden has helped picky eaters expand their palate: “When kids see a plant grow from a blooming flower into a string bean, they’re more willing to taste what they’ve grown. “I’ve had a lot of parents tell me that their kids have gone home and started a garden at their house because of their experience at camp.””
Camp gardens lead to charity
Camp-grown greens are also used for charitable purposes. Each Wednesday, Ramah Day Camp in Elkins Park, PA donates produce grown in the on-site summer vegetable garden to the local Mitzvah Food Pantry. Says director Susan Ansul, “Recipients say they wait for us to come. This shows the kids that the food they grow can be used to feed the needy.”
Ansul also likes the way maintaining a garden lets kids practice being eco-conscious. “In addition to teaching kids to take responsibility for what they eat, kids' gardening also ties into other environmental concepts we teach, like recycling and composting,” she says.
“Kids enjoy the garden because it’s hands-on and experential,” says Diamond Ridge’s Steven Bernstein. “It’s a chance to get dirty and pick the earth. Sometimes they’re astonished by what they can grow in such a short period of time.”
Gardens with camp programs
Longwood Gardens in Kennett Square, PA takes kids behind the seeds (um, scenes) of its lush campus in creatively themed weeklong summer sessions.
Six weeklong sessions at Philly’s Morris Arboretum focus on Green Gardeners and Habitats Hunters.
Tyler Arboretum in Media, PA segments its program into three age groups, all of which participate in Operation Insect and Flower Frenzy.