“The camp at Sprout Creek Farm is a leveler. Everyone gets dirty, and no one has an advantage. Kids cry when it’s time to go home, but they keep coming back and eventually become counselors. They call Sprout Creek home,” said Margo Morris, Director of Strategy Development at Sprout Creek Farm.
Sprout Creek Farm encompasses 200 acres in Duchess County and is three different entities, distinct yet dynamically intertwined. It is a working farm, raising free-range cows, sheep, goats, turkeys, guinea fowl, chickens and pigs. The market sells award-winning cheeses and farm raised meats, as well as local Hudson Valley milk, eggs, vegetables, and crafts. The farm is also an educational center, offering day, weekend, and summer programs that help connect young people to the land, the seasons, and the plants and animals that coexist here in harmonious rhythm.
In the early 1980’s, Sister Margo Morris was teaching English at Sacred Heart High School in Greenwich, CT. Many of Morris’ students seemed bored and apathetic, and family dynamics had changed. “Families didn’t eat dinner together anymore, and fast food was on an upswing. Our school had over 100 acres of beautiful land, and I thought that a summer agricultural camp could be the answer. I saw the connection to the earth as a very powerful teaching tool and a positive, grounding and inspiring influence in young people’s lives. By teaching them about agriculture, they were learning more than just farming techniques. They were getting the opportunity to spend more time outside, feel connected to something bigger than themselves and develop a real community in the process,” said Morris.
The word got around Greenwich that Morris wanted to start a summer farm program for her students. One day a goat was anonymously dropped off at the school, soon followed by a cow which Morris found on her front lawn. The school’s biology lab was hatching chicks which they donated to the farm project. Morris then received a $4,000 grant from the Network of Sacred Heart Schools for innovative programs, and she began buying pigs and sheep, saving them from slaughter. The hands-on curriculum was written, and the first summer the campers milked cows, made soap, planted a 2-acre garden, wove baskets and washed their dishes with a hose.
A few years later, a woman named Elise Kinkead passed away. She owned 200 acres of farmland outside of Poughkeepsie, and she stipulated in her will that the land be donated for agriculture and education. Kinkead’s lawyers had heard about Morris, and the two groups found each other. “The stars aligned and Sprout Creek Farm was born,” said Morris.
For 30 years, Sprout Creek Farm has provided an education for children and adults that fosters an appreciation for “our place within the natural world, and thus encourages responsibility for the future of our environment,” according to their mission statement. “The farm seeks to offer an experience of community as a model of peaceful living. We want to offer programs that will reconnect people to the rich agricultural heritage of America,” said Morris. The mission is accomplished through hands-on experiences for children who visit the farm to milk cows, gather eggs, clean animal stalls, feed goats and get their hands good and dirty. “My personal mission is to provide an environment that’s dynamic, complex and beautiful where plants and animals are an integral part of our community. It’s my back to the future model,” said Morris.
SUMMER CAMPS AND RETREATS
Principals and guidance counselors from Newburgh’s middle schools identify at-risk boys to attend a week-long camp at Sprout Creek at no charge. “The boys join all of the other campers and no one has an advantage. Most of these kids have never milked a cow or spent a night on a real working farm,” said Morris. Green Teens, a group funded by Cornell University, sends high school students from Beacon and Poughkeepsie to the farm during the school year and also for summer camps. A typical camp day includes a 6:30 AM milking duty followed by egg gathering, feeding and watering the animals, cooking, gardening and overall cleanup. The final chore is another milking at 8:30 PM. The campers also help with preparing their meals, and Executive Chef, Mark Fredette, cooks “farm to table” with the campers. “The kids help harvest, clean, and prepare meals for around 50 people. Comfort food can help with home sickness, so our first camp dinner is always mac n cheese,” said Fredette.
The farm’s Winter Solstice celebration attracts adults and children. Families sit by the bonfire, and everyone is encouraged to talk about their blessings and to write down something they want to let go of during the Solstice Season. Children then toss the unwanted thoughts into the fire. There is lots of music and food, including the farm’s internationally-acclaimed cheeses. Morris always wanted to produce something that could be made and sold at the farm. “I chose cheese because it includes science, artistry, intuition, and you can eat it.” said Morris. The farm currently makes 8 varieties of cheeses including their best sellers, Batch 35, a washed rind and Margie, a brie style cheese. The farm makes over 50,000 pounds of cheese a year which is sold at several stores including Whole Foods and Murray’s in NYC. “We wanted to make something that dignified the art of farming. Cheese was supposed to be a way to enhance the education, but it really took off and became the backbone of the farm. Cheese supports our educational mission,” said Morris.
Sprout Creek has several new themed retreats planned including cooking, photography, writing, painting and music. The summer camp themes include Plants & Animals, S.T.E.M., Creek & Farm Ecology, Language and Performing Arts, Cooking and Team Building & Leadership.
Samantha Schillinger, a camp counselor from Poughkeepsie, fondly remembers the three summers she came to the farm. “I liked leaning by doing, especially animal care and farming, and now I get to be a positive role model for other young campers. I love watching the kids bond to the farm’s environment,” said Schillinger.
“At Sprout Creek Farm, our aim is to teach a love for our fragile earth, to understand our connection to it, and develop a passion for protecting its integrity. Through work and play that tests limits and expands horizons, campers develop self-confidence, the ability to work through challenges, and a broader sense of responsibility and commitment,” said Morris.
Visit www.sproutcreekfarm.org. for a Calendar of Events.