Thursday, June 30, 2016

Interview With Maggie Israel

Maggie Israel is our Sustainability Intern.  In her words, what she does is "bridge the gap between the farm and the camp."  She works with the Farm Director (Doug Knight) to integrate the farm with the everyday activities of the campers.  Specifically, she helps run free choice and special skill activities by participating in them, and by coming up for ideas for activities that the campers would enjoy.  Outside of that, she does farm chores and oversees Food Life.

Food Life is an hour every morning in which one boy's cabin and one girl's cabin  learn about the farm and the importance of sustainable food, and to help with chores on the farm.  It ensures all of the campers learn about and interact with the farm whether or not they choose to go there with their time.  Campers, Ms. Israel says, "take an hour to feed the food before it feeds us."

It is foundational for her to bridge the gap between people and nature, so that people can interact with it in a new way and realize its importance.  She has always loved the environment even though she thought the idea of farming was "gross" in the past.  Her love of the environment drives her to foster respect for nature in her internship, her extracurricular activities, and her studies.
 "It's important for them to realize that it should come from a healthy and sustainable place," she said.  " I foster a respect for nature."

Ms. Israel definitely believes she needs creativity to do her job well.  The needs of the camp and the farm change, and so do the interests of the campers.  She has to come up with new activities that keep the campers engaged, while also educating them and helping the farm.

She is a Little Rock native who is currently a sophomore at Barnard College in New York, which is an undergraduate school of Columbia University.  She believes she will graduate with an Environmental Policy major.  Currently, she is a member of the Fossil Fuel Divestment Campaign in Barnard, which she believes is moving the school administration to withdraw its investments (or divest) in fossil fuel companies She has been going to Camp Mitchell consistently since childhood, says she enjoys the camp because of its simplicity and focus on community.

Monday, June 27, 2016

Primary Camp

Last week we held Primary Camp (i.e. 2nd through 4th grade).  Something that we are very tickled about is the fact that we had more kiddos sign up for agriculture as a special skill than for sports!

Trying Kale

Here's their schedule for last week:

Free Choice: Scarecrow building
Special Skill: Planting beans and sunflowers

These scarecrows are to guard the new sunflowers.
Free Choice: Bug hunt
Special Skill: Honey harvest (yes, we are still doing that)

A Hornworm in the Tomatoes

Free Choice: Harvest
Special Skill: Threshing wheat (that is to say separating the edible part of the grain from the inedible chaff that surrounds it)

Free Choice: Cob Building
Special Skill: Baking bread

Making Dough

The bread we made from our wheat and honey was used in the Eucharist in the closing service of camp.

They also built us another layer of cob for our outdoor learning center on Tuesday.

Picture Courtesy of Rebekah Smith

In other news, the adorable chick that recently hatched is growing, and is currently housed in its own protective cage!


Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Harvesting Honey

By far the highlight of the senior high camp's agricultural interaction last week was our biannual honey harvest!

Our Apiaries

Last week, in case you didn't notice, was extremely hot.  Despite this, our dedicated senior high campers came out near noon on Thursday to observe honeycombs being extracted from our apiaries.  And of course, Tristan and Camp Director Rick Hargreaves were very dedicated as well, since they were the ones who put on a second layer of fabric over their normal clothes to retrieve the honeycombs in the first place.

The Campers Watch the Beekeepers Suit Up

Smoking Them Out
We brought the hives back to the kitchen so that the bees would not find us as we extracted the honey.  In the kitchen, Tristan and Mr. Hargreaves heated up a specially-designed knife for cutting the protective beeswax from the comb in order to free the honey.  Most of us took turns cutting the wax.

Like a Hot Knife Through Beeswax
The next step was to put the honeycombs in the centrifuge-based extraction device and spin them.  The devices works like this: the honeycombs are spun around so fast the the honey on the outer side is flung from the comb and runs down the bottom of the device.

Putting it In

Spinning It

Taking it Out -- It Needs to Be Turned Over

At this point, if you turn the spigot on the bottom, the raw, unfiltered honey runs out.

Said raw, unfiltered honey has dead bee larvae and bits of beeswax in it (both of which are technically edible), so we pour the honey through a fine sieve.

They say eating bugs is the way of the future...
...but you probably don't want to get in on that yet.
 This is the point at which we can put the filtered honey into bottles for sale.

 I also got a look at the honey barn where the Petit Jean Farmer's Market takes place on Saturdays!  It was rather deserted when I was there, but during the market it is very crowded, usually.

The Sales Counter

By the way, on the way to the kitchen, we determined the well by the abandoned house is about 25 feet.  One lucky camper got to name the monster in well after himself for guessing the depth right.

Little does he know it's already called the Witch of Camp Mitch.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Summer Camp Starting!

This was an eventful weekend!  We had our Farmer's Market as usual on Saturday, selling Napa/Chinese cabbage, sugar snap peas, beets,  kale, and broccoli.  We also discussed the possibility of keeping some dairy goats for the summer with a neighbor.

A Prime Example of a Dairy Goat

Yesterday was the first day of Senior High Camp!  That means that there will be a lot of exciting events coming up this week in which the campers will be interacting with the farm.  Campers can come to the farm from 10:30 - 11:45 a.m. and 2:30 - 3:30 p.m. during their free time, and they may choose farming to be the special skill they want to practice during the week.  In that case, they may come from 3:45 - 4:30 p.m. to learn about farming.

Senior High Campers

What we have planned for them to do is as follows:

Free Choice: Wheat Harvest
Special Skill: Introduction to the farm

Free Choice:Working on the future goat house
Special Skill: Planning

Free Choice: Talking about healthy eating
Special Skill: Planting

Free Choice: Pickle beets
Special Skill: Harvest honey

That's right, you read the last one correctly.  The honey will be ready to harvest as soon as this week!  I'm excited, personally.  Camp counselors can also grow or help raise things on the farm by themselves throughout the summer, with perhaps the campers they are in charge of.  One counselor expressed interest in growing his own chili pepper plant during the orientation.  Perhaps Chef Adam will be able to make some spicy dishes with them by the end.

Doug and a Maggie (Sustainability Intern)

Here are pictures of the wheat harvest that took place this morning.  The campers will help grind it into flour, after which it will be made into bread for Communion.

Oh, and one more thing!  The hydroponic Romaine lettuce should be ready in a few weeks, and Tristan will plant the next batch tomorrow.  Here's how it's doing so far:

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Interview with Tristan Odekirk

Tristan Odekirk graduated the University of Central Arkansas with a Physics and Math double major.  For fun, he enjoys playing video games and reading horror novels.  Tristan intends to go to Michigan Tech University in August to pursue a graduate degree in civil engineering, and so also spends much time studying.

Tristan has worked at the farm in his current capacity for 2 years.  He had known Doug and Jenny for a while, and wanted to volunteer at the farm after they returned from Japan.  They discussed the idea of Tristan being a permanent volunteer, but he concluded he would have to be paid.  That would be difficult because of the red tape that the farm would have to go through as a non-profit organization, so together they succeeded  in making CMAP an Arkansas GardenCorps Service Site, and Tristan became a GardenCorps volunteer.  He also arranged to assist with general maintenance work for Camp Mitchell.

Tristan states, "I'm really grateful to them [Doug and Jenny] for putting so much work into making the farm into a Service Site essentially just for me."  He went on to say, "Right now I'm just trying to help Doug, who's trying to start a farm and a family at the same time, which is crazy.  I believe in him, though, because he's really smart and knows his stuff about plants."

Tristan is involved in all agricultural work on the farm, from tilling and weeding to helping decide the methods of trellising the tomatoes.  He thinks of himself as a farmer at CMAP instead of simply a farmhand because he has such autonomy in his work, which is why he is so enthusiastic about his job.  "I love it here because I get to have purpose and play at the same time.  I get to experiment with full autonomy."

As he says, part of the reason having such a large role in making farm decisions for a volunteer is so important to him is that "you learn farming by making a bunch of mistakes and not doing them again."  He feels that if he could not experiment with farming methods as much as he' s allowed to, he would not learn as much. 

As a GardenCorps volunteer, his job was not only to help with farm work, but to also "provide nutrition education with the purpose of reducing childhood obesity and to increase environmental awareness and sustainable agriculture practices."  Even though he is no longer a GardenCorps volunteer, he still enjoys teaching people about agriculture and science.  Sometimes there is nobody to work with, and sometimes there are many guests or campers helping him. 

As a great advocate of learning through experience, he teaches by getting others to work with him, and asking them questions about what the think about the process of farming so far.  He is so passionate about biological or cultural facts that he often adds some color to the work by telling people about the science and reasoning behind the sustainable methods the farm uses.

We will certainly be sad when he leaves at the end of the summer.  In the near future, we hope to have more people like Tristan working on the project!

Monday, June 6, 2016

Another Quiet Weekend

Saturday June 4th was another Petit Jean pop-up market. 

At the Pop-Up Market

At the camp, an Episcopal women's group called Women's Institute visited.  The group had over 100 women, and we were able to provide salad and carrots for a carrot cake for their meals!

A Good Example of Our Carrots

Other than that, we had a quiet weekend doing regular farm maintenance, such as turning over our fertilizer pile to ensure the nutrients are evenly distributed in the pile.

Tristan Mixing Manure

The mysterious chicken killer has made itself known -- it seems to be a grey fox.  It was sniffing around the garden after lunch yesterday.

Cute, But Deadly

Friday, June 3, 2016

Interview with Chef Adam Hanry

Chef Adam Hanry

Last Saturday, May 29th, I had the pleasure of interviewing Chef Adam Hanry in the Camp Mitchell kitchens.  He is a very interesting person, and has much to say in support of the farm. 

First, more personal details.  Chef Hanry has been a chef for 18 years, 7 of which have been spent at Camp Mitchell.  Camp Mitchell is the third nonprofit he has worked for, one of which was Winthrop Rockefeller Institute, where he achieved the rank of Executive Chef.  He started out working in restaurants, but it was only as a chef in the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute that he started seeing the potential of food as an art form.

Despite the fact that he thinks of himself as an artist, he believes the chef is the "weakest link" in the process of making food, since all he really does is "put some fire to  it."  He says that his assistant Samantha Johnson is great to work with and really really carries him.  His hobbies include reading nonfiction about football.

When Chef Adam talks about "food," he refers to the way people harvest the ingredients, the way they prepare them, and finally to the way they dispose of the waste -- in other words, the complete life cycle of the food.

"I know almost all chefs [in Arkansas]," he has said.  "Camp Mitchell Agricultural Project is the best farming program in the state in part because of the proximity to the food source.  If a visitor asks me how fresh the lettuce is, I can say it was picked two hours ago.  Other programs can't compete with that."

He also said that the campers love doing things like learning about growing food, feeding the chickens, gathering the cooking ingredients, and helping their counselors to dispose of food waste in the compost. "You can't put a price on that educational system."  Chef Adam believes this close relationship with food, or "cooking the right way," is the most responsible, moral way to prepare it, and that makes what he prepares all the more delicious. 

The mission of Camp Mitchell is to provide a spiritual center where guests can come and be at their best.  Food done the right way is an essential part of that spiritual, creative atmosphere, he believes, even though it is not economical.  Welcoming fellowship and food creates the environment for something special.  He says that the guests care about the mission of the camp, and it helps people keep coming back. 

For example, a beading group came to visit recently, and they adored the food.  When Chef Adam told them about how and why Camp Mitchell cooks the food the way it does, they immediately scheduled another visit afterwards.  Letting the Camp's guests know about our mission and values, he believes, also helps that mentality to spread. Hopefully, more people will start to farm sustainably and use the food gathered from that in their meals.  Movements always have to start small, after all.