DARTMOUTH – A group of city kids traded sidewalks and streetlights for dirt, roots and rain last week when they took to the fields at Sharing the Harvest Community Farm for part of a summer sustainability camp funded by UMass Dartmouth.
“A lot of these kids don’t know that food comes from somewhere that isn’t a supermarket. One of them thought a tomato was an apple,” said camp director Cindy Macallister. “This shows them what goes into produce.”
The weeklong camp, in its fifth year, is funded by the UMass Dartmouth Chancellor’s Office and managed by the university’s Office of Sustainability. It gives low-income youth ages 11-14 a chance to learn about environmental stewardship, green careers and the world beyond their televisions. A day on the farm is just one of the many events campers attend.
The camp charges $80 tuition but a majority of attendees receive a scholarship, Macallister said, adding that the camp serves children “that otherwise would not be able to attend any camp.”
“We’re trying to teach the kids how to respect and nurture nature,” said Joe Yarmac, the camp’s lead teacher. “Some come because they already have an interest (in nature). Others find it through word of mouth and those are the ones we try to reach; those are the ones we can instill some values in.”
Sharing the Harvest is a community farm at the Dartmouth YMCA on Gulf Road that was founded in 2006 to help alleviate hunger in SouthCoast. The farm operates from February to November and the produce it harvests ends up in food banks throughout the region, said community farm director Dan King.
About 25 campers, mostly from New Bedford but a few from Dartmouth, Mattapoisett and elsewhere, headed into the fields Thursday morning to transplant beets and kale from the farm’s greenhouse to its rows of produce. And when the late-morning rain picked up, like real farmers, they kept at it.
“At first they were asking if we were going to work through it,” Yarmac said at midday with a drizzle still falling. “But then they embraced it.”
Emma deLacy, 12, certainly did. Covered from shirt to shoes in dirt and mud, she was all smiles coming out of the beet row after more than an hour of planting.
“It’s my second year here,” deLacy said, adding some of the kids “don’t like to feel dirty.”
But the dirt is all part of the experience, Yarmac said.
“We come out (to Sharing the Harvest) to get a little bit dirty,” he said. “Some of these kids don’t know what’s that like.”
Learning about the Earth and how they can affect it is also part of the kids’ experience. Campers also learned how to construct “urban gardens” – a used soda bottle that seeds can be planted in – and the basics of how wind turbines and solar panels work.
“This all opens their eyes into other things,” Macallister said. “It tells them there’s more out there than just the standard jobs of banker and office worker. They can get out there and help put up wind turbines, all kinds of things.”
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