We recently finished our second summer camp of 2016, Living Local. This camp was focused on farming and learning about where your food comes from and where it goes. We had the pleasure of assisting in harvests, horseback riding, and fishing. It was a packed week so I’ll just get right into it.
As for any camp, our first day consists of having the kids get to know one another. We met for orientation at the GROW Local South Texas Learning Garden and gave families a basic idea of what to expect for the week; followed by fun name games. Once we were better acquainted we headed for Mustang Island State Park, our home for the week. When we arrived we had the kids split up into tent groups and, due to the windy weather, we had all hands on deck for tent set up. We worked up a sweat and decided we deserved a break, so we headed for the beach. Everyone enjoyed the beach and getting to know each other a little better. We did have one rouge crab decide to pinch one of the campers but we fixed her up and she went back in the water (Quite a trooper). In the evening we hung out and explained the ins and outs of a Youth Odyssey camp.
We started our next day with a trip back to the Learning Garden where we helped harvest herbs, fruits and vegetables for the farmers market later that day. When we arrived we found a solar oven (a box heated by the sun that can actually cook food) all set up and ready for making cookies. This was a nice treat on a hot day. They chose to split the team into smaller working groups; some were collecting herbs, others were weighing and measuring the bundles, picking green beans, shelling black eyed peas, washing vegetables, and making their own solar ovens out of pizza boxes. The whole time the kids were constantly impressed with what we were doing, smelling all the herbs, and sampling a few too. It was definitely a learning experience for everyone, including the facilitators. (I encourage anyone who is curious to check it out because it was awesome!). When the work was done we were able to eat our cookie creations. They were just a touch dry but nothing a little bit of locally harvested honey (from the garden) couldn’t fix.
From there we went to the Corpus Christi Food Bank for a lunchtime cooking class and to learn more about the food bank. When we arrived they had food supplies set out for us already; personal pizzas and kale chips. We started cooking and surprisingly, almost everyone loved the kale chips portion of the meal. As we were ending our lunch, Cassandra, the representative from the food bank, started to discuss the “My Plate” concept and how it can be helpful to living a healthy lifestyle. After which we took a tour of the facility to get a better understanding of what they did. I was under the impression that the Food Bank was where people could go to pick up personal food but it’s really a distribution center. They take the food donations from H.E.B. and other food vendors and grocery stores and then they package them and drop them off to local shelters focusing on various causes. It was very interesting and the kids had fun with the huge, multi-ton, weighing scale, where they weighed the whole group and then started guessing games on where it would weigh in.
We were running short on time and needed to get to the Downtown Farmer’s Market to help set up and sell our goods we had harvested earlier that day. Unlike last year, when all of the campers just stayed at one booth, we split up our resources and had pairs of kids sprinkled around the market to help out the rest of the vendors. We had kids helping sell eggs, watermelon, tomatoes, squash, a few things I had never heard of too and of course the wonderful items we had harvested that morning. There were a few groups helping greet and assisting the chef with getting him the vegetables he wanted from the market to go in his shrimp stir fry. Everyone had fun and got to take turns checking out the market and the art at the Art Center. For our help we were gifted with some kettle corn, a watermelon and some free pieces of cake! It was definitely a pleasant surprise.
After a packed day we had a little less on our plate for the next two. We headed to Woodsboro to horse around with some horses and learn a thing or two about riding and roping. On our first of two days with the horses, we met up with our amazing partners at the River Ranch and Independence Equine and started to talk about how to care for a horse and how to understand their body language so we could be safe around them. Our first task to get us used to the horses was an activity called “Around the World.” It’s an activity where the kids (and facilitators) sat up in the saddle and had to do a 360 degree “spin” around on the horses to see who could do it fastest. It was amusing to watch but a little tricky to accomplish. (Although, the fastest time was 3 seconds!) We also did egg relays, where we would take an egg and put it on a spoon and then walk and trot with the horse without it falling off and breaking (probably the most difficult task we had to do on the horses). The campers also had the chance to do some speed work, getting to ride the horses in a controlled environment while increasing speed from a walk to a trot to a cantor. They all really enjoyed that and the lassoing portion. They were shown how to prep a lasso for use, how to adjust the loop, how to throw it, and then they got to practice on a mock bull set up.
On our second day with the horses we did a few more games, even sillier than the previous day. One was having to apply lipstick while trotting on a horse and trotting without spilling a cup of water (the kids had a choice of which they’d like to do). We also got to do some “kid-fishing,” where they put a gummy fish on the end of a stick with a string attahced and the kids had to navigate the horse to the fish and try to pull it off the string with their mouth (a great spectator sport). Once we were done with lunch we actually did some real fishing in the pond at River Ranch with help from James Gourley and his “super stinky bait.” We were out there for about 2 hours and split into two groups; one on each end of the pond. We attempted a rivalry but one side was the clear winner with catching four fish while the other had one catch. We hadn’t been fishing but maybe 20 minutes when we had our first pull on the line. After a lot of fighting and creativity we ended up with a 25 pound catfish that was an estimated 15 years old! It was the largest catch that James had ever seen from his pond so it was quite a big deal and he was all smiles. We threw it back in after getting a few pictures of course. Then we headed back to camp for some relaxing beach time.
On our last full day of adventures we headed to Freedom Harvest Farm for a tour of their land and animals. We discovered that it is a Hobby Farm; a farm for personal, family consumption and not for any economic gain. They discussed the way they use the land and the crop information to ensure that they have a variety of food options to chose from, even in bad weather years. As we were walking the grounds, we would stop at different plants and get to pick some fruit right off the trees and eat them. The kids loved getting to interact with the farm animals; pigs, donkeys, chickens, geese, and a lovely pony that pulled a few of them around in a little cart. They were very gracious hosts and we were even able to make some homemade strawberry ice cream; which was delicious. We had a great time at the farm and the kids said they couldn’t wait to come back to camp next year.
We were able to spend the rest of the day at the beach, relaxing and then enjoy a great dinner of hobo packets (a camp favorite), games, s’mores, and funny stories before heading to bed for our last night at Mustang Island. Knowing that there was a strong possibility of rain the next morning we all woke up a bit early to break down camp. Not a moment too soon either. It was maybe 15 minutes after we had put away all of the tents and gear that it started to torrentially downpour on our campsites. We had a covered area and table that we were cooking chocolate chip pancakes and sausage under without a care in the world. All of the kids had been given a rain poncho as a part of their camp gear so they put on their ponchos and chose to play around in the rain and jump in puddles and made the best of a potentially very stressful situation. Once the rain stopped, about an hour and a half later, the sun came out and we chose to play in the 6 inch deep water that once was where our tents had been by skipping our plates across the water before washing them and heading to graduation.
Upon arrival at graduation, we helped set up a covered area in case of rain and to create some shade; and got the food table ready for serving. As the parents and friends started to eat the kids finished up paperwork and got ready to show off their skit they had worked on that morning. The skit was a hilarious rendition of all of the fun and silly things that we had experienced that week and ended with a surprise “Happy Birthday” song and cake for me (and anyone else who wanted some). We handed out awards for completion of our Living Local Camp 2016 as well as individual awards to the campers based on funny moments, accomplishments, and personality traits throughout the week. All of the kids said they had a blast and all of the parents have since mentioned how their kids could not stop talking about how much fun they had at Living Local Camp (a few kids said they wanted to do all of our camps next year). Needless to say it was a very successful, fun, learning filled week and we are thankful for all of the sponsors, parents and great weather for helping us make it such a great camp.