Expanding minds through digging in dirt

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An outdoor camp at a local farm is letting children get their hands dirty while still learning through the summer months.

Star Acre Farms and the Jefferson Conservation District are offering children in third through eighth grades the chance to participate in the Junior Master Gardener certificate course at the farm, 8412 Alkire St..The camp runs Tuesday mornings, June 11 to July 30.

Americorps Vista and camp facilitator Kaitlin Fischer started the program this year.

“Every week is focused on a different topic or theme,” Fischer said. “Some of those are plants’ needs and plant processes. We’ve focused on water, the water cycle and ways to conserve water in the garden, since vegetables need a lot of water to grow. We’ll talk about insects. We try to do activities around each of those topics and then devote time at the beginning and end of class to work on the farm.”

Each child has a small plot of his or her own in which they planted their choice of plants and vegetables, all of which they get to keep and continue to tend after the camp is finished.

“A big benefit (about having their own plots) is it gets them excited to eat vegetables, especially vegetables they never wanted to eat before,” Fischer said. “We’ll have a class devoted to nutrition and different ways to prepare those foods.”

Fischer said she hopes the children take what they learn in the camp home, and continue to garden and learn more about the process between classes and after the camp is over.

“It’s good life skills,” she said. “Growing your own food is something I think everyone should do because you’ll know where your food is coming from and what’s in it.”

Though the children are learning about a slew of topics, they still get to have fun.

“I think it’s really fun because kids can grow things and learn how to improve their gardens, and learn about nature and have a lot of fun,” said fourth-grade camp participant Madigan Petri.

Petri said her favorite part of the camp is tending her garden, where she planted squash, cosmos, beans, sugar peas and tomatoes.

Though the summer camp is fun and teaches children about science, the effects can more far-reaching than just getting their hands dirty and brains working for eight weeks in the summer, said camp co-facilitator Jen Buriaenk.

“My inspiration for working with kids in the garden is the need-for-nature theory,” Buriaenk said. “It’s focused on how being out in the wild and nature, in this case gardening, has a restorative effect for children, and really helps them thrive and grow. It’s important for growth and development, and it can really be a healthful thing for kids to be around and learn about their food.”

The inaugural camp is reaching its completion, and Fischer said she plans to host the camp at Star Acre Farms again next June.

For more information about the Junior Master Gardener certificate course and Star Acre Farms, visit www.StarAcreFarms.com.