Chestnut Ridge Camp and Retreat Center is a unique place, of that I was certain even before I took the job of Garden Manager here nine months ago. One of the things that make Chestnut Ridge so unusual and special is The Community Farm. How many summer camps and retreat centers do you know that have their own working farm and raise a portion of their own food? Better still, at The Community Farm and at the Camp and Retreat Center, one of the missions is to connect people more closely with the food they eat and with each other: a passion I share! Food, faith, and farming have been the theme, and the mission, here for the last several years.
I was privileged to witness this mission in action last weekend when a tribe of YMCA Princesses, their dads, and one little brother visited The Community Farm for a service project. It was a picture-perfect fall day, clear skies, warm sunshine, colorful leaves. Six first grade girls with “Indian” names like Laughing Bug and Little Flower came with their fathers to feed the livestock and work in the Community Garden.
The first order of business was to harvest lettuce in the Community Garden for lunch at the Morris Center. Anyone who has been around six or seven year old kids knows how hard it can be to get them motivated to do a chore, but somehow in the garden, work isn’t so, well, work-ish. It’s fun. Three tubs and 2 bags were filled with green and red lettuce leaves in no time…and everyone was smiling!
As the animals were grazing the fields, the Princesses, their dads, and I grazed in the garden. We tasted fresh broccoli right off the stem. We hunted the last of the raspberries, tucked away in tangled vines. We braved (and some liked) raw kale and Swiss Chard. We noshed Austrian Winter Pea. What’s that you say?
Austrian Winter Pea is planted at The Community Garden as a cover crop to help protect and enrich the soil over the winter, but a side benefit is that the leaves and stems are delicious and nutritious too. The Princesses loved the Peas! They sat in the sunshine and pulled out handfuls of leaves to munch! Happy kids!
Petting and feeding the livestock was also fun for the girls. After all, The Community Farm is home to Ham, Bacon, and Sausage, the pigs; Cows 3, 4, and 5, the beef steers; and Lucy, Sky, and Star, the dairy goats. But can you believe it? Even with all the animals around, the girls wanted to go back to the garden to eat more peas! Gardens and kids, they just grow best together…