At Calypso Farm’s summer camps near Ester, it’s all fun and games until it’s time to do chores; then it gets even more fun.

Merriment abounds as youngsters feed farm critters, tend the gardens, pull weeds and help prepare snacks. This is the sixth summer that Calypso offered the farm camp.

“The camps were a natural extension of our other youth educational programming,” camp director Leila Pyle said.

Calypso, a nonprofit educational farm that got its start in 2000, offers hands-on education programs for all ages and grows food for the community. The camps allow opportunities for youth to create a deeper connection to the farm by providing an educational experience that extends beyond what’s offered during field trips. “At farm camp, kids get to be on the farm for a whole week, really becoming comfortable with the place as they’re learning about it,” Pyle said.

“We want the campers to become comfortable with being outdoors, interacting with farm animals and exploring in the surrounding forest. We hope they gain an understanding of the interconnectedness of the whole ecosystem, farm and forest, and how they fit into that too,” Pyle said. “We want them to get a sense of where food comes from and hopefully become inspired to grow their own food.”

Parents were enthusiastic about the down-to-earth camp experiences. Mari Barton who was dropping her daughter at camp, said, “This farm camp caught her interest with the animals and plants. It’s perfect for her personality and interests. It’s nice to have the opportunity to go to a camp that meets her interests.”

Celanise Kozarik, another mom, said, “I want my kids doing stuff outside. In the summer that’s so important.” Since the family is considering starting their own farm, she was excited to expose the children to a working farm. “We love the aninals,” Kozarik said.

Branddon Kovall, who had two children at the camp, said, “It’s a great experience for them. They’re excited to do chores and feed animals. I hope this instills a sense of purpose for them.” He also dreams of starting a hobby farm someday.

Junior counselors who had previously attended the camp also had good reviews. “It’s a really fun camp,” said Lizzie Cable. “It’s fun being on a farm and teaching the kids about how the farm works.”

Josie Adasiak, also a junior counselor, said she’s been attending farm camp since she was 8.

“It was such a great experience for me and I wanted to make it possible for other kids,” she said. “This camp gave me an appreciation of where the food I eat comes from. I get to help grow the food and milk the goats.”

Camp leader Elsa Willsrud has the inside advantage, as she has spent her entire childhood living at Calypso Farm. “We were lucky enough to grow up here,” she said. “It’s super fun to share the experience and explore the farm with the kids. These days, kids are playing video games; it’s good to get them outdoors.”

Each morning the camp starts with a circle where the children sing songs and play learning games. Every day has its own “word of the day” which is emphasized throughout the activities and discussed at the end of the sessions. After breaking into smaller groups (Crazy Kale, Radical Radish and Zesty Zucchini), the kids dart off to their various stations: forest and pond exploration, feeding the sheep, goats, chickens, pigs and rabbits, making crafts, harvesting beans or cooking. “Everyone gets to try everything,” Pyle said.

Children are under the care of experienced environmental educators who have a passion for working with youth. Typically, they’re Calypso staff who work on educational programs at the farm throughout the summer. 

The joy on the young faces as they feed fireweed, clover and dandelions to the sheep and goats is priceless. One little boy can’t help but breaking into “Mary Had a Little Lamb” as he offers freshly picked greens to a sheep.

Energetic 5 and 6 year olds crouch near the rabbit hutch feeding the animals fireweed. “We are imagining we are rabbits,” one giggling girl said.

“It’s nice for kids to have the opportunity to feel a real connection to a local farm,” said Susan Willsrud, Calypso’s co-director and farm manager. “They really feel at home here and have a better sense of local food. I hope they see it as something they could do; we certainly need more farmers.

“Being exposed as a child is a great way to do that.”

Pyle said the camps are well integrated into the other farm activities. “It feels very natural to have groups of children on the farm and getting involved with everything that’s going on,” she said. One surprise has been realizing they could have started the camps sooner than their 14th year of operations.

“Children tend to love the farm animals, and overall they really enjoy getting to know the farm,” Pyle said. “They also love getting to eat and cook from the garden. They end the camp session feeling a very strong sense of comfort and ownership of the farm and surrounding forest.”

Nancy Tarnai, a local freelance writer, has been writing about Calypso Farm for the News-Miner since the nonprofit organization’s founding 19 years ago. Each and every visit to the farm boosts her endorphins. Contact her at njtarnai@gmail.com. You can visit the farm noon to 4 p.m. July 14 during the annual open house. Visit calypsofarm.org for details.