SCARBOROUGH – Collecting eggs and feeding chickens is an exciting chore at farm camp.

It’s extra exciting when a squealing pig escapes its nearby pen, then runs in circles as farmers try to corral it back into the yard.

Young campers in brightly colored rubber boots froze in their tracks Thursday as the pig ran around them, then quickly resumed their search for fresh eggs at Broadturn Farm. It was all part of a routine morning at a camp that offers children a glimpse at the food cycle and life on a working farm.

The farm camp, a Broadturn Farm tradition, this year has grown into The Long Barn Educational Initiative, a nonprofit organization that will expand farm-based education to include adult workshops, a preschool program and story time for young children. Camp directors say the switch to being a nonprofit will allow them to raise money and apply for grants to expand programming and offer scholarships to campers while increasing access to the farm.

Beatrice Perron Dahlen, Long Barn co-director, said Broadturn Farm is a “magical classroom” for children.

“There is so much research that tells us how important it is for children to spend time in and connect with the natural world, but it is less and less a part of children’s lives,” she said.

The camp offers eight, one-week sessions for children ages 4 to 14. Organizers expect about 150 children to attend this year. Some campers return year after year, while others are experiencing a farm for the first time, said Megan Dunn, program co-director. Camp programming centers on a farm-based education approach where children learn about the cyclical nature of agriculture and animal husbandry.

“We know how much the kids love to be out on the farm and that people don’t always have access to that type of rich learning environment,” Dunn said.

Perron Dahlen said she feels interest in farm-based education is growing in the Greater Portland area, driven largely by people’s interest in buying locally grown food and supporting local agriculture. There are also farm camps at Turkey Hill Farm in Cape Elizabeth, Wolfe’s Neck Farm in Freeport and Morris Farm in Wiscasset.

Cheryl Wixson, an organic marketing consultant for Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association, said she sees an increasing interest in supporting local agriculture, a movement she calls small but exciting. It is “hugely important” for children to have hands-on opportunities to learn about fresh food through programs like the one at Broadturn and develop healthy eating habits, she said.

While campers at Long Barn help with morning and afternoon chores, a big part of their day is having fun while learning about the farm, Dunn said.

This week, campers built a solar oven, made butter and cheese, baked bread and picked strawberries. Campers begin each day by gathering in a circle to stretch and sing traditional camp songs, then spread out across the farm to help with daily chores.

Corey Lorfano, 6, of Gorham, raced out of morning circle to the “small barn” to see the farm’s three cows before tending to chickens. As he and his fellow campers petted a young cow, they found a stash of eggs hidden in a pile of hay. Back outside the barn, Corey was eager to feed the chickens — his favorite farm animals.

“I like that we get to take care of the animals and do chores. It’s hard being a farmer,” Corey said, adding that he has his own “farm” of tomatoes and potatoes at home.

Carrie Lorfano, Corey’s mother, sent her two sons to farm camp so they could learn where their food comes from. The family had visited Broadturn on Open Farm Day, but she said a single day isn’t long enough to truly experience farm life.

“It’s helpful for kids to know where their food comes from. It’s helpful for them to get dirty and get their food from somewhere other than the grocery store,” she said. “That’s something you have to see to understand.”

Stacy Brenner, who runs Broadturn Farm with her husband, John Bliss, said farm camp started nine years ago when they farmed in Cape Elizabeth. They continued the camp after moving to Broadturn Farm, which they lease from the Scarborough Land Trust. Switching to a nonprofit and giving more control over educational programming to Dunn and Perron Dahlen seemed like the right thing to do, she said.

“They really wanted to expand it to a larger community,” she said. “We really think (farm camp) creates a lifelong appreciation for local agriculture.”

Providing access to the farm for community members is also important, Brenner said. She and Bliss earlier this year signed a lease with the land trust on part of the 434-acre farm on Broadturn Road. The public Silver Brook Trail Loop runs over part of the property, but Brenner said she wants the community to feel more connected to the farm through educational opportunities.

Brenner also enjoys watching children experience life on the farm.

“Their enthusiasm just makes it all worth it,” she said. 

Staff Writer Gillian Graham can be contacted at 791-6315 or at:

ggraham@mainetoday.com

Twitter: grahamgillian