Edible Monterey Bay

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Choosing a Summer Camp on the farm

April 22, 2014 – camp 1 smallThree months of summer seems so luxuriously long when you’re a kid. The days stretch out ahead in a vast calendar of sunny days, fun activities and no classrooms.

For parents, summertime speeds by as we continue to march along to the daily grind, but all of a sudden many of us need to add childcare to the list of things to take care of for the next few months. Thank goodness we live in a place where an array of high quality summer camps exists, and we can pick and choose from programs that span many interests and ages.

It is hard to imagine a more lovely setting for our kids than spending their summer in the garden, combined with lessons that connect them to their natural surroundings and food systems. I am happy to report on the bounty of farm and garden-based camps available here on the Monterey Peninsula.


The Hilton Bialek Habitat in Carmel Valley is a stunning project dedicated to environmental awareness and responsibility. What started as an effort in 1995 to preserve a bird habitat on Carmel Unified School District (CUSD) property has since grown into a space complete with an amphitheater, greenhouse, pond, native plant and bee gardens, classrooms, wood-fired pizza oven, orchard and, most recently, “The Green Building” with solar power, rainwater catchment systems and kitchen classroom. MEarth is a non-profit that collaborates with CUSD in many ways and conducts most of its programming at this amazing location. They “teach students that all of their actions—from the clothes they wear, the food they eat, the cars they drive, and the homes they live in—have a direct impact, not only on their own lives, but also on our planet’s health,” as stated on their informative website. The new “Adventures in Nature + Food + Community!” day camp for ages 8-13 that MEarth is offering for the very first time will uphold that philosophy via nature hikes, trips to local farmers’ markets, sessions in the “Green” kitchen classroom and an array of hands-on creative activities.

Life Lab

Camp 3 smallSince 1979, Life Lab has been a leader in farm and garden-based education. Their “Garden Classroom” is located up on the gorgeous UCSC farm and is the place in which thousands of teachers get trained, bringing skills back to their own schools on a local, regional and national scale. Life Lab is also at the forefront of promoting ecological literacy, which Education Director Whitney Cohen describes as being “the difference between knowing about something and knowing something.” When a child is immersed in the natural world, actually interacting with it, as opposed to hearing a lecture or reading a book, it brings true understanding. Summer camp at Life Lab is therefore infused with a teaching philosophy of having the garden be a place where learning comes to life. Each session; the popular Garden Sprouts for 4-6 year olds, to Wildlands & Watering Cans for 7-10 year olds and the Farm and Wilderness Exploration for 11-14 year olds, is tailored to be developmentally appropriate and led by staff trained to make “every moment a teachable moment,” says Camp Director Emily Mastellone-Snyder. “I think our programs really have the balance of structured, scientifically-based activities that also allow for free exploration and play.  A lot of the activities come from our published guides that are tried and true, helping children connect to the natural world, food systems and each other.” Unfortunately, the word is out on how great Life Lab’s summer camps are, and are currently all filled up. There is a chance for possible opportunities opening up for late summer, so check back on their website and sign up for their newsletter for updates.

Everett Family Farm

Camp 2 smallLaura and Rich Everett started their farm on Old San Jose Road in Soquel because they really wanted their three daughters to grow up with a sense of the natural world in a very direct way. That vision has since bloomed into a working farm, selling pasture-raised eggs, orchard fruit and veggies from the 45 acres. They also recently started a beginning farmer incubator program, giving recent students from UCSC’s lauded Center of Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems Apprenticeship program a plot of land to develop, grow and use as experience toward starting their own farms. But the most recent development for Everett Family Farm is the summer day camp this year, in collaboration with Gateway School in Santa Cruz. There are three different week-long sessions this June and July, for 2nd and 3rd grade levels, taught by certified counselors and instructors from Gateway. Rich Everett says that “the kids will do farm tasks in the morning and have a full, fun agenda in the afternoon. They will feed chickens, collect eggs, feed goats, pick strawberries and raspberries, pick veggies, make their lunch out of some of the stuff they’re picking, and it does sell out!”  

Live Earth Farm

Off a beautiful back country road in the apple orchards of Watsonville sits Live Earth Farm, a fully functioning farm with a robust CSA program and farmers’ market schedule. The Live Earth Farm Discovery Program is their farm-based education non-profit, serving youth through “seed to mouth, farm to fork, and child to community connections” onsite in a very hands-on way. This year marks the 5th season of summer camps at Live Earth, offering a wide variety of opportunities for all ages to get their hands in the dirt. Little ones ages 3-6 will have Sprouts Camp, 6-12 year olds can partake in Art on the Farm Camp and Young Farmer’s Camp while the Leader in Training Program serves teens. But no matter the age, all will participate in activities centered around the farm fields and kitchen classroom, with a unique emphasis on animal care. Goats, laying hens and even ponies! An emphasis on accessibility and scholarship opportunities makes Live Earth an wonderful option for all.

About the author

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Amber Turpin is a freelance food and travel writer based in the Santa Cruz Mountains.