by Lily Gutterman, Team Vermont
It was a 10 mile ride so beautiful that I couldn’t be bitter about the hills, or the heat already making us sweat before 9AM. From Vergennes to Monkton, we climbed hill after hill, landscapes dotted with dairy farms large and small. Each hill unveiled a spectacular larger view of the Green Mountains in the distance.
We finally reached the Willowell Foundation’s 230 acres of land. We exchanged names and quick introductions with Americorps employees and part-timers at Willowell. Within a few minutes, 30 elementary school aged campers from Middsummer Camp in Middlebury, VT arrived for one of their weekly field trips. It is a camp about new experiences for kids who dont always have the opportunity for camp or recreation programs.
Weeding and mulching fields of butternut squashes was definitely a new experience for some of these campers. One 4th grader was insistent that she needed her Deep Woods bug spray before entering the high grass. Other kids were more happy to get their hands dirty, some particularly lavished in squishing pests.
Having worked at a children’s garden camp last summer, I felt refreshed to be around kids in this setting again. Programs like these always give me hope that the half-step generation below my own is getting more exposure to local foods and environmental issues than ever before. My generation is so notorious for our apathetic attitude towards nature, and our dependency on electronics. I think that’s why programs like these are so impressive to me, and moving. Still, it’s definitely hard to get young children to weed vigorously for more than five minutes at a time. That’s where incentives come in. Harvesting vegetables from the garden to put on pizza served that purpose. In the Willowell pizza oven, we cooked the kid’s pizzas, complete with melted cheese on fresh beets, kale, tomatoes, garlic, and basil. The campers loved it.
After they left, we had the opportunity to check out one of Willowell’s ongoing projects, the Walden Project. This program serves as a year-long exchange for public school students, allowing them to study in an alternative setting without paying for private school. The curriculum is based on Thoreau and transcendentalism. The students range from valedictorians and kids close to dropping out. Many share a love for the outdoors and some, the arts. The outdoor school is beautifully situated in a cedar grove, with student built structures and fire pits that serve as their classrooms. The space is truly inspirational, and the guest speakers and artists-in-residence impressive.
Visiting Willowell, I couldn’t help but wish I’d been able to do such a program when I was in high school. Undoubtedly, the communities built at Willowell are lasting and empowering to different kinds of youth.