Fun on the Farm
Youth summer camp at Ollin Farms offers an authentic farming experience for kids
After my kids’ first day at Ollin Farms youth camp in Longmont, Colo., this July, I asked my eldest how it differed from other farm camps they’ve experienced.
“It’s smaller, and there’s no zipline,” Brody answered.
A typical 8-year-old-boy response that highlighted his initial disappointment, it also summarized the difference between this camp and its counterparts: one that offers experiences on a farm versus one that focuses on farming and the healthy food farms provide.
And there are advantages to both. One of my kids’ favorites, for instance, is Longmont’s Sunflower Farm, which offers a glimpse into rural life through its weeklong youth camps.
Boasting more than 50 acres, each summer my kids are giddy about returning for its camps that include the aforementioned zipline, horse rides, art, animal feeding and plain-old exploration, to name a few. As one online review aptly described, “It feels like one of the few places where the kids can be really free to be kids.”
But if an authentic farming experience is what you seek, look no further than Ollin Farms. Established in 2008 and named for the Aztec word meaning constant motion or change, Mark Guttridge and his wife, Kena, are committed to using the 10-acre farm he inherited from his grandparents as an educational platform.
“Ours is really focused on healthy eating habits and nutrition,” Mark says, which he accomplishes by growing pesticide- and herbicide-free crops.
And with a background in environmental and water-resource engineering, he takes an innovative approach to soil management, working with pre-existing microbial communities to maximize a plant’s flavor and nutrition.
“That’s really our passion: to have the best soil and a healthy plant, which makes healthy people,” he says. “It’s about understanding natural systems, and how our bodies are connected to healthy soils and a healthy environment.”
And that begins with children.
“Youth is the perfect target audience because they’re so receptive,” Mark says. “It’s a lot of fun to see.”
By the second day of camp, my boys were perfect examples of that very concept, rattling off to me the fun they had completing their morning “chores”: feeding the animals, and harvesting fruits, vegetables and eggs.
As well, they enjoyed games like a scavenger hunt—finding items throughout the farm both living and non-living—and catching chickens.
They also searched for tadpoles and frogs in the creek, and came home paint-spattered one day after decorating their own camp t-shirts and straw hats. And whatever else they experienced in between included dirt and mud. Lots of it.
“My mission is getting kids involved about where food comes from, to connect with the soil and nature,” says Kena, co-owner, educational director and mom to their four daughters, ages 5-19. “We love that the kids get a chance to play and get dirty, to imagine and discover. They don’t even know they’re learning or doing science.”
It’s exactly what Shari Moraga wanted for her 8-year-old son, Joaquin. The Boulder, Colo., mom and artist is married to a Chilean, so she loved Ollin’s Spanish-immersion option. (Farm co-owner Kena is from Mexico, so she speaks to campers in both English and Spanish.) She also wanted Joaquin to experience something more unique than a typical sports camp.
“I want this to be his playground,” Shari says. “This is about being on a farm, about learning this life. The kids learn that a work environment can be a play environment. And they can also see how hard it is to get food on a plate.”
The campers saw that firsthand on the last day when they picked and washed most of the ingredients that comprised that day’s lunch: pasta salad with fresh onions and carrots.
And when I peeked in on the kids’ activities that afternoon, Niwot Market’s chef Justin Hirschfield had just finished preparing dessert: cooked cinnamon apples served with fresh raspberries.
“The farm is awesome,” he says.
He cooks often at Ollin events, including summer camps and some farm-to-table dinners, and appreciates Mark and Kena’s goal to promote healthy, local foods. He incorporates much of the farm’s produce into his own cooking, he says, and enjoys creating clean, simple yet tasty food for the kids.
“It’s fun to help them be more aware of what they’re eating,” Justin says.
And by week’s end, my kids were converts, finishing as exhausted, dirty and happy campers.
“It was like we were part of the farm for four days,” Brody says. “I can’t wait until next year so I can do it again.”
In addition to the summer youth camps, Ollin Farms offers farm-to-table dinners and a seasonal farmstand. You can also find them at local farmers’ markets (learn more about Longmont’s Farmers’ market here) or join their CSA (Community Supported Agriculture, basically a farm share).
Visit the Ollin Farms site here.
The devastating September 2013 floods damaged several key educational areas and large equipment. To find out how you can help or invest in Ollin Farms, contact co-owner Mark Guttridge at Mark@ollinfarms.com. For more information, click here.
For information on Sunflower Farm camps, click here.