The goal of summer camp at Turkey Hill Community Farm in Cape Elizabeth is for the children to fall in love with nature, said Holly Sheehan, one of the camp’s co-directors.

“A farm is a special place to be,” Sheehan said. The children, aged 3 to 8 years old, are able to get to know their local ecology by doing nature walks through the property’s trail system, and can learn about where their food comes from by being involved with daily activities on the farm such as feeding the animals, collecting the chicken eggs and tending the small children’s garden.

They learn about the cycles in nature when they place scraps on the compost pile and use compost in the children’s garden. They are even faced with the cycles of life and death when they tend and care for the animals that could someday end up on their dinner plates.

These are “basic concepts that kids just don’t get to experience,” Sheehan said. And besides, she said, the farm “is just a really nice place to play.”

Sheehan previously spent six years designing and running a year-long educational program and summer farm camp at Wolfe’s Neck Farm in Freeport. She is a science teacher and comes from an environmental background, but she said she approaches this camp differently because she is coming at it from the perspective of a parent and not a teacher. She has two children, aged 6 and 3-and-a-half, enrolled in the camp this summer.

Nicole Chaison, the other co-director, said the kids “have a natural sense of taking care of the planet, and nature, and the garden. … They get into it.”

This is the farm camp’s first official year of operation. Last year, Nicole Chaison brought her two young children to Turkey Hill Community Farm after her family joined the community-supported agriculture program there. When she was there she discovered that the farm was an amazing space for her children.

“Kids love it here, they just like to be in nature and with the animals or in the garden.”

Along with Deirdre Sulka/Meister, who manages the children garden and has a 6-year-old daughter enrolled in the camp, they decided to start an informal camp. They hired a baby-sitter of sorts and had six children come to the farm a few days a week.

This year, however, they decided to make it official. There are 32 slots each day, but about 100 children who are involved. The farm camp is unique because parents have the freedom to sign up by the day. Sheehan and Chaison said that produces a lot more administrative work for them and might have to change next year.

There are three counselors and a group of volunteer junior counselors who lead the three groups of children roughly separated by age.

Kevin Brewster is one of the counselors hired this year. He is a recent arrival to the area and works as a kindergarten teacher at the Reiche School in Portland. He also has a young son enrolled in the camp.

Brewster said that kids have their whole lives scheduled these days, “so to just come out here and turn them lose in the woods and let them find the frogs gives the power back to them to just be kids. … And it’s such a gorgeous spot.”

On a typical sunny morning last week at Turkey Hill Community Farm Brewster leads his children to spend some time with the livestock. They toss pieces of bagel into the pigpen and watch them roll around in the mud for a bit before they move on to the chickens. They walk through the tall grass and pass a pen hopping with chicks only a few weeks old.

When the column of colorfully dressed children arrives at the chicken coop that houses the Rhode Island Reds that will begin laying eggs any day, Brewster leads them around to where the eggs are laid.

“What’s the report?” Kevin asked, opening the wooden slat to reveal empty spaces. “Poop and feathers,” all the children said in unison. No eggs yet, but Brewster tells them that once the chickens start laying eggs they will make zucchini bread with the eggs and zucchini from the garden.

“Farmer John said they’re going to be ready soon,” Brewster said, referring to John Bliss, the man who runs the farm along with Stacy Brenner. The two lease the 25-acre parcel that is Turkey Hill Community Farm from the Eastman family, who have owned the property since the 1920s. When Bliss and Brenner began working the land more than a year ago it had laid fallow since the 1950s.

The existence of the farm camp spread mostly by word of mouth, Chaison said. Some brochures were distributed at Pond Cove Elementary School and some other spots around the Portland area and enrollment filled up quickly. The children come from all over the Portland area and some are from families involved in the CSA program at Turkey Hill Community Farm, “but not all of them,” Chaison said.

This year it was a pilot program, Chaison said, and they will assess how it went. But, Chaison and Sheehan plan on returning next year to run the summer camp. Anyone interested in contacting the farm camp at Turkey Hill Community Farm can call 776-3376 or e-mail Nicole Chaison at [email protected]

“Don’t pick it, it’s not ready,” six-year-old Naomi Radke-Rowe tells five-year-old Cole Hersey, both of Portland, as they work in the childrens’ garden at the Farm Camp at the Turkey Hill Community Farm.Four-year-old Miles Thompson of Portland works in the childrens’ garden at the Farm Camp at Turkey Hill Community Farm.Five-year-old Lexi Silverman of Portland inspects the lettuce in the childrens’ garden at Turkey Hill Community Farm.Liva Pierce, almost six, peers in at the chickens who will eventually lay the eggs she and the rest of the children at the farm camp at Turkey Hill Communtiy Farm will use to make zucchini bread.Three-year-old Siri Pierce of Portland feeds an old bagel to the pigs at Turkey Hill Community Farm.


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