by Gregory Locker, Counselor & Director of the Backcountry Leadership Program
This past Saturday a group of ten campers went to Kingsbury Market Garden (KBMG), my family’s farm in Waitsfield, VT. KBMG is your archetypal diversified vegetable farm growing over 40 kinds of produce on seven tillable acres. KBMG employs innovative methods, such as movable greenhouses and natural weed control, for efficient and sustainable production. To visit KBMG one is struck by the utter flourishing of life and astounded that so much can be grown by the farms limited staff of three (my two brothers and one intern).
Our trip began with an extended tour by the head farmer, my brother Aaron. Systematically we moved through the farm and the campers had a chance to see -and taste- the different crops, while gleaning a sense of the complexities of planning and engineering that lay behind such an operation.
Some notable stops along the way were the greenhouse tomatoes that have grown to heights of twenty feet and the sweet potato greenhouse that mimics the tubers native environment with temperatures exceeding 110 degrees with 100 percent humidity. Each crop carried with it its own lesson in biology, whether it was the natural control of aphid pests by our comrade in arms the lady bug or the use of movable bee hives to increase pollination of the strawberries. Even the visit to the machine shed spurred innumerable questions as much of the farm equipment has been engineered from scratch or tailored to fit the peculiarities of the farm giving them the look of Rube Goldberg devices.
The day was sunny and warm so we took advantage of the neighboring Mad River for refreshing swims on numerous occasions. To give the campers a flavor for farm work, and to pay our dues, we then embarked on about two hours of weeding. The weed pressure at KBMG is marginal but following the farmer’s maxim “one year of seeds means seven years of weeds” it’s crucial that literally no weeds go to seed. All together we had twenty-eight eager hands pulling weeds and picking the occasional strawberry. Everyone involved was impressed with how much was accomplished. After a couple more swims in the river and a delicious meal using the farm’s products, we said good-bye, concluding our time at KBMG.
So what is the value of exposing kids to a farm like this? One is to give kids a sense of where their food comes from, or at least where it could come from. It’s difficult for a person to respect food if their answer to the question “where does your food come from?” is “the grocery store.” Second, is that food production is becoming a significant issue for our country. Due to numerous problems, such as, the depletion of top soil and reliance on fossil fuel, the large scale industrial farm is on the wane. We will be looking increasingly towards small scale farms such as KBMG to pick up the slack. Each year small scale farming is becoming increasingly profitable (in the literal sense) while providing a rich (in the metaphorical sense) lifestyle for those who are brave/foolish enough to pursue it. It doesn’t hurt to plant the seed early and let what may grow. Thirdly, and most importantly, is to turn kids on to healthy, fresh food. If one wanted to make the smallest intervention that would have the greatest positive effect on peoples lives it would be to improve their diet. To see kids who usually gravitate towards French Fries and ice cream, relishing a raw carrot or a pinch of fennel is enough to know that if kids are steered toward healthier food options they will take them. Ultimately, the farm trip proved to be but another opportunity to share something I’ve found meaningful in my life with young people, exactly the reason I’m an outdoor educator.