During the early days of the pandemic, Yadira Cervantes of Oakland was extremely worried about her kids.With her 6-year-old son and 8-year-old daughter stuck at home, they filled their days with screen time – watching television and playing video games. Cervantes tried to set up activities in the back yard, but the children resisted anything to do with being outdoors. It started to impact their health, manifesting with too much weight gain. Cervantes had to do something.
When she heard about Camp ANV (Acta Non Verba) in Oakland which has a farming theme, she decided to give it a try. ANV, which has been around for 10 years, is an urban farm near the Oakland Coliseum that focuses mainly on youth programs, such as camps and after-school programs.
After Cervante’s children started attending the camp last summer, she saw amazing changes.
“They know the names of plants. They know how to plant seeds. They are so curious. They use what they learned at home,” she says. “Now they are so curious about nature, and they don’t want to be in front of a screen.”
Camps, such as ANV, where kids learn about sustainable farming, healthy eating and nature are growing in popularity among parents desperate to wean their kids off screen addictions acquired during the pandemic. Some of these farm camps have waiting lists, and organizers agree there’s been a burgeoning of inquiries lately. Another draw to farming camps is they are primarily held outdoors, making them a safer choice during a pandemic.
At Slide Ranch camps in Golden Gate National Recreation Area in Marin County, much of the focus is on what Dan Bednarczyk refers to as “food empowerment.”
“They learn where food comes from and they learn to make their own food,” says Bednarczyk, interim director of education.
Slide Ranch campers, ages 5 to 13, experience working on a farm. They care for goats, sheep, chickens and ducks. They learn to milk the goats and make cheese and butter. There are beehives where campers can learn about the sweet treat that bees provide.
The camp, which has sessions throughout the summer, costs $500 a week. Scholarships are available.
Bednarczyk says the camp’s mission to focus on the next generation of science standards. There are plenty of hands-on activities. “It helps supplement learning. Farm education is often brushed over in school,” he says.
At Camp ANV, participants who range from age 5 to 15 participate in the steps of farming fruits and vegetables, says camp manager Sydney Collins. They plan the garden, plant, harvest, taste what they grew and learn about nutrition. Then, they sell the fruits and vegetables. The proceeds go into accounts for campers that must be used for educational purposes – anything from college savings to piano lessons, Collins explains. Campers also participate in other activities, such as science, art, dance and field trips. Middle-schoolers visit ANV’s WOW Farm on the west side of Oakland, home to a flock of chickens.
“A majority of the campers are from low-income families who don’t normally get to go to camp,” she says. “This gives them a place to be outdoors and to be in a safe place.”
The cost of running the camp is typically $600 a week per child, Collins says. But families pay what they can or parents can volunteer their time and energy in exchange for admission.
Since her kids did so well at Camp ANV, Cervantes’ children now attend its after-school program. They are healthier now and have lost a lot of the weight they gained, she says.
“They bring home vegetables a lot and I cook them,” Cervantes says. “They planted a garden in our yard.”
Victoria Rodriguez’s 8-year-old daughter also goes to Camp ANV, as well as to the after-school program. It’s been a great experience. Rodriguez says she’s loved the cooking, science experiments and crafts.
“It was a way for her to feel like everything was okay after dealing with the pandemic,” Rodriguez says. “I feel like she’s in a safe place.”
The Great Outdoors
Many parents opt to send their kids to farming-focused camps because they are outdoors and they learn about nature.
At Slide Ranch, not only do campers get the farming experience, but they also explore tidepools and hiking trails since the camp is located right by the ocean on National Park land, Bednarczyk says. It’s this variety of ecosystem that makes the setting so unique.
In San Francisco, Golden Bridges School offers a farm camp focusing on many outdoor activities. The 1-acre school farm is located in the Mission Terrace neighborhood, close to Glen Park. The camp is held completely outdoors.“Being outdoors is a great way to deal with life’s stresses,” says Jessie Elliot, administrative director of the camp.
Activities for campers ages 4 to 10 include animal care for chickens and rabbits, planting, weeding, watering, mulching, harvesting, compost care, crafts, cooking and free play. In addition to growing fruits and vegetables, there’s a garden with plants that can be used to make dye for tie-dye shirts. Campers also make items like lip balm and herbed salts. There’s also an outdoor kitchen where campers can use the fruits and vegetables of their labors to cook soup and pizza.
The camp starts June 20 with sessions throughout the summer. Cost ranges from $450 to $1,400 depending on the number of weeks.
Elliot says there has been more of interest in the camp since the pandemic. “Most children are saturated with media and technology, and this is a space that is free of that. It’s vital for kids to do things, be somewhere where they have to do chores, cook and do the dishes, and be outdoors.”
Bay Area Farm Camps
Camp ANV (Acta Non Verba) – 1001 83rd Ave., Oakland. 510-878-7235. anvfarm.org/programs/camp-anv.
Farm Camp at Bryerly Farm – 1180 N. Gate Road, Walnut Creek. 925-856-5328. bryerlyfarms.com/farmcamp.
Farm Camp at Golden Bridges School – 503 Cambridge St., San Francisco. 415-912-8666. goldenbridgesschool.org/farm-camp.html.
Hidden Villa – 26870 Moody Road, Los Altos Hills. 650-949-8650. hiddenvilla.org/programs/summer-camps/region-HV.
Slide Ranch – 2025 Shoreline Highway, Muir Beach. 415-381-6155. slideranch.org.