Last summer, 6-year-old Jemima Heaslip was adamant that she did not want to go to camp.
“I don’t know what she thought camp was, but she said, ‘I’m not going.’ She was sure she didn’t want to go,” recalled her mom, Serena Heaslip of Kensington.
Parents of campers probably know where this going, but as the mother of a first-time camper, Heaslip wasn’t so sure. When the first day of Camp Urban Adamah arrived, Heaslip faced it with some trepidation.
“It took her about two minutes until she was in a circle singing songs and had totally forgotten about me,” Heaslip said. “She didn’t even say goodbye. When I picked her up, she said, ‘That was the best day ever.’ ”
When Camp Urban Adamah starts this summer, now 7-year-old Jemima will be back.
“We planted carrots, potatoes, tomatoes and herbs,” said Jemima, who never had worked in a garden before. “I loved planting, it was just fun.”
One would have to live beneath a kale leaf not to have heard about Urban Adamah, the Jewish community organic farm and education center. Though well known for its fellowships that teach farming and Torah to young Jewish adults, the Berkeley center — unlike the Isabella Freedman Jewish Retreat Center in Connecticut (where the original Adamah fellowship got its start), doesn’t limit the fun only to the fellows.
Here, children ages 5 to 12 can spend part of their summer on a real urban farm, learning how to take care of chickens, worm composting and yes, planting. Even the youngest campers partake.
“We are thoughtful about what we do with the youngest kids,” said camp director Casey Baruch Yurow. For instance, “Sunflower seeds are good for little kids, because they’re not so tiny … and are easier to handle” than, say, kale seeds.
The camp is guided by three main principles: awareness, connection and responsibility, said Adam Berman, founder and executive director of Urban Adamah.
Awareness refers to giving campers an experience that “cultivates their ability to see the miracles in life,” Berman explained. “The farm is a perfect setting for this exploration, as growing food is a miraculous process, and campers are involved in all aspects of it: planting, weeding, mulching, harvesting and cooking.”
Playing games that give campers a sense of how the combination of sun, soil, water and air combine to produce sustenance teaches them about connection, he said.
Equally important, “We ask, ‘How can we give campers a sense of responsibility for the health of the planet and other humans and non-humans that we share it with?’ All campers harvest and distribute food that we give away at our monthly free food farm stand in partnership with local social service agencies.”
While campers bring their own lunch from home, most snacks at camp are harvested and prepared by the campers themselves (a lot can be accomplished with a butter knife, apparently). The group in charge of preparing the snack sometimes performs a skit for the other campers about what’s in it and how it was grown and prepared. (All snacks are certified kosher, and Camp Urban Adamah caters to a wide level of observance.)
Being involved in growing and preparing food can drastically change campers’ eating habits. “It’s really beautiful to see kids genuinely enthusiastic about eating fresh vegetables,” said Yurow. “These kids would make a snack, and there would be Fig Newman [organic] cookies and a farm salad. They often came back, wanting seconds of the salad, really excited about it. It’s really cool.”
Campers use a cob solar oven to make their own pizza (topped with farm vegetables, of course) and a bicycle-powered blender to make smoothies.
The bike blender was a hit with Jemima Heaslip as well as with 6-year-old Eidan Schachter-Brooks, who attended two one-week sessions last summer.
“They were preaching to the choir with him, as he was a really good eater already,” said his mom, Lisa Schachter-Brooks, of Oakland. But she soon noticed a subtle change happening. “He calls Urban Adamah ‘my farm.’ He really feels like he’s part of that community and the land and the vegetables,” she said. Eidan will also be among those campers returning.
In its debut last summer, Camp Urban Adamah hosted 90 campers. This year it can take up to 150, with five one-week sessions, starting June 18. (There’s also a spring camp April 2 to 6).
Yurow recalled one highlight for him this last summer, during a Hide and Seek-like game on the farm. A child hid behind a pile of hay, and he watched her become totally mesmerized by an insect. That’s the beauty of Urban Adamah: “You get to see these kids have these nature connections, right in the heart of Berkeley.”
Camp Urban Adamah, http://urbanadamah.org/camp-registration/