I spent this summer at Farm and Wilderness Summer Camps, located in Plymouth, Vermont, in a camp called Tamarack Farm. This is a quaker camp, where all campers are disconnected from all devices and must rely on their heads and hands to get them through the day. I spent 6 and a half weeks at Tamarack Farm and learned a lot about myself and what I can do for those around me.
Farm and Wilderness has 3 fully functioning, year-round farms. During the summer, campers are asked to help out with the farm and garden. Barn chores happened at 6:00 am and 4:00 pm every single day, 365 days out of the year. For 3 weeks, I went to barn chores every single day, often alternating between morning chores and afternoon chores. For the rest of the 6 weeks, I went as often as possible, which was usually every other day. Barn chores consisted of feeding and giving water to all the animals (we had 4 cows, 1 calf, 1 ram, 1 goat, over 15 sheep, over 30 chickens, 3 rabbits and one gigantic pig), milking the cows, walking the cows, collecting the eggs in the afternoon, brushing the rabbits, turning the compost and herding the sheep when they needed to be moved. Going into the summer, I had some experience working on a farm, but not very much. A few summers ago I attended another camp where working on the farm was optional, and I only went a handful of times. This summer I became very aware of how difficult it is to work on a farm for a long period of time. I understand that I only was asked to go for a few weeks, and people often do this for a living, and it made me much more appreciative of the food I have in my refrigerator. It was quite life-changing to create a relationship with an animal that was sent away to be slaughtered and then brought back to be eaten at the end of the summer. I found it much harder to eat the meat from a cow that I had fed and brushed and walked and it gave me a different view of the food that we eat everyday. Everyday after we finished taking care of the animals, we’d spend the remaining time in barn chores (which was usually are 1.5 hours) working in the garden. We pulled weeds, squished bugs and every tuesday and friday we harvested what was ready.
We often were fortunate enough to eat what was harvested, though sometimes a certain crop wouldn’t make it through the summer too well, for instance this summer our kale was demolished by bugs, which is one of the very few down sides on not using any chemicals on our plants to get rid of bugs. It was an amazing experience to be able to carry what we had grown 200 hundred feet to our kitchen where we’d cook it and serve it for dinner. A lot of effort was put into the garden and it was such a rewarding experience to see it grow so well and be able to enjoy it’s freshness. One very important thing we did this summer was one day we hiked up to a farm about 3 miles from camp, and we collected hay for our animals. It was an extraordinarily hot day and we hiked 3 miles up a mountain to the farm where we’d be collecting our hay. There was a large machine that would drive around and collect the hay and put it into bales, which we would then collect and put into piles so the trucks could come around and collect it to bring back to our farm. Because of the heat and because the bales were so heavy and very itchy when they touch your skin, no one was very happy about the job. However, everyone knew that it was incredibly important that we brought the hay back to the farm, so that our animals had food for the winter. We knew if we didn’t do it, no one would. So we spent the entire day baling 500 bales of hay, and then ran back down the mountain to put the hay into the hay loft, and it was an incredibly rewarding day.
This year, Mayor Christopher C. Louras of Rutland, Vermont, announced Rutland would be taking in 100 Syrian refugees at the end of the summer. Many people of Rutland were not pleased with this idea. They seem to believe that the refugees have no place in Vermont and that “To bring in 100 Syrians refugees is absolute lunacy,” according to Timothy Cook, a doctor at Rutland’s urgent care, in his interview with Chicago Tribute. So this summer, Farm and Wilderness wanted to make it clear that they are looking forward to Rutland taking in the refugees and are offering a welcoming community. Many campers, including myself, were on a mission to create welcome baskets for each Syrian family. We decided it would be nice to include vegetables and other produce from our farm and in addition, we decided to carve 100 spoons and spatulas out of the scrap wood we had at the farm. We realized that the project was a bit ambitious a little too late and only got to about 86 spoons and spatulas, but some of the staff promised to have the rest done before the refugees are set to come in September.
Racial Justice was a very big topic of discussion at Tamarack Farm. Every Thursday night we gathered together as a community and discussed social justice and what we as socially-conscious teens could do. Every counselor at this camp had some issue that was very important to them and were always open to discussing their involvement is social issues. One counselor in particular, Vida James, would often tell us her stories about her involvement with the fight for racial justice. By the end of the 2nd week, after 2 very emotional, eye-opening social justice nights, we as a community decided we wanted to do something to show our solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement. This was right after the death of 2 African American men, Alton Sterling and Philando Castile. We were able to watch the video that Castile’s girlfriend took during the aftermath of his death. We decided as a group that at the upcoming fair, where all of the Farm and Wilderness camps and the camper’s families would be in attendance, we would do a small performance. The day before, we created shirts for everyone that said “Black Lives Matter” and we learned songs that are often used in protests such as “I can’t breathe” and “We ain’t gonna stop till people are free”. The day of the fair, we did our performance while wearing our shirts and after we stopped singing, we held up signs of the people of color who have been killed by police brutality. It was an extremely moving experience and it taught me that I can do so much more than what I am currently doing. I can make a difference and there are so many ways that I can do that.
Every day I learned something new and did something that I could be proud of, whether it be working on the farm, preparing food, clearing trails, making spoons, or having long discussions about racism and social injustices in our world. I am able to look back on my 6 and a half weeks at Farm and Wilderness and know that I am a different person now than I was before. I am so much more aware of my surrounds and the things I take for granted every day. I am so grateful for the opportunity to learn this summer and I’m so excited to take what I learned and apply it to my life outside of camp.