ALBION — For six summers, Cassidy Charette joined other boys and girls for a day camp held at a small dairy farm nestled among hills and fields in south Albion.

The farm, owned by the Hartkopf family, is focused on organic, sustainable agriculture. The day camp celebrates that spirit by connecting kids to the land, animals and plants that are part of the farming cycle. For many kids, the most exciting part is making a connection with a single farm animal that they adopt for the week they’re at camp.

Cassidy Charette was killed in a hayride accident in Mechanic Falls last October. The 17-year-old was a junior at Messalonskee High School, played on the varsity soccer team and was well-known for her community service.

The Albion farm was one of Cassidy’s favorite places and an experience she looked forward to all year, said Monica Charette, of Oakland, her mother.

“It fostered a love and respect for animals and for the hardworking people, like the Hartkopfs, who make agriculture their life’s work,” Monica Charette said.

Cassidy loved taking care of the animals and would return to visit through the summer after her week of camp was finished. Her last year at camp was 2012.

Although the girl loved all the animals she adopted, among them goats, calves and baby pigs, her favorite was a sheep named Erwin. A photo of the two together still hangs in her room to this day.

“There were many summer camp options, but when asked if she had to choose just one, without hesitation, it was always farm camp,” Monica Charette said.

Her sudden death shook the community and led to an outpouring of charity for causes Cassidy supported and awards and honors in her name.

Linda Hartkopf, who owns Hart-to-Hart Farm with her husband Doug, also wanted to do something to remember Cassidy and the time she spent at farm camp.

She recalls that all the good things people remember about Cassidy, the way she honored people and always lent a helping hand, were the same attributes Cassidy brought to camp.

“What comes to mind is just her smile and her laughter,” Hartkopf said.

Hartkopf discussed the idea of a possible project with Monica Charette. They both wanted something that would enhance the campers’ experience, Hartkopf said. Eventually, they came up with the idea to build a new kitchen and community center in Cassidy’s memory.

The plan for Cassidy’s Kitchen calls for a roughly 16-foot by 20-foot building with a gas oven, sink, refrigerator and counter-top with a passive solar design that could extend the camp season. Campers already help prepare lunch, so the new building would help them better embrace the camp’s farm-to-table ethic, Hartkopf said.

She estimated that the building and materials would cost about $9,000 and has started raising funds for the project, setting up a gofundme website and putting out feelers for private donations.

The goal was to raise all the money by October, then have an old-fashioned barn-raising with the community to complete the project, Hartkopf said. So far, $3,000 has been raised, including a $1,000 donation in supplies from Hammond Lumber. Camper families have also donated items toward the building wish list and are signing up to construct the building.

“They are really excited about the idea,” Hartkopf said.

She and her husband started the farm in 1990 and began a day camp about 17 years ago.

“I saw the value of people understanding what we did here as a farm,” Hartkopf said.

The camp has two programs for kids 5-13 years old. A camper’s typical day includes working in the gardens, bonding with their adopted animals, playing games and working on their journals.

Developing a personal connection with an animal is one of the centerpieces of the program.

“A lot of self confidence is built from working with the animals,” Hartkopf said.

“When kids have challenging moments and work through them, the smile that comes to their face and the sense of pride is amazing, there aren’t enough words to describe it.”

Peter McGuire can be contacted at 861-9239 or at:

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