By the end of a week of Fairmont Farm camp, 20 campers aged 6 to 12 had the routine down. The eight and nine-year-old group followed farmer and camp director Clara Ayer to the barn and began scraping out a stall together. Asked why he had signed up for the camp, Carter, 8, paused his shoveling. “It looked fun,” he said, wrinkling his nose and adding: “This is not the funnest part.” The group made quick work of the messy job and moved on to spread clean wood shavings before heading over to a more unanimously enjoyed task: brushing and learning to lead the calves they had each been assigned at the beginning of the week. “Calves are the right size for the kids,” Clara explained. “They’re young, they’ve never done this before either. It’s the kids and calves learning together. It’s amazing how quickly they both catch on.”Welcome to #farmcamp, where kids and calves learn together. @cabotcheese #FarmerFriday Click To Tweet
This is the second year of “life on the farm” camp hosted at the newest Fairmont Farm location in central Vermont. Clara, her brother Ricky Hall and their first cousin, Tucker Purchase, are the third generation working at Fairmont, joining Clara and Ricky’s parents, Richard and Bonnie Hall. Across three farms in East Montpelier and Craftsbury, the family milks 1,400 registered Holsteins. The farm where Clara runs the camp is called The Haven and it focuses on a subset of the herd that has especially high-quality genetics. The young farmer was very excited to share that Fairmont had just sold their first two heifers at a national Holstein convention, a ringing endorsement of the breeding work the family has been doing.
In the main barn where the camp kicks off each day, a table was spread with photos of smiling campers bearing thick milk moustaches. The kids moved comfortably from station to station doing morning chores before taking a snack and game break on the grass between barns. Their jam-packed days are full of varied activities including chores, animal care and knowledge, crafts and team-building games.
Clara has invaluable assistance supervising the campers from a number of family members including her mother, grandmother, younger sister and her cousin Tucker’s wife, as well as a few other adults and some teens from the 4-H club run by her parents. “It’s a great opportunity for the older 4-H kids to learn leadership,” said Clara. The camp is a natural extension of the family’s commitment to education and youth, she continued. “We’ve always tried to do a lot of farm tours,” Clara said, noting that the main farm is so close to the local elementary school that students often walk over for field trips. “It’s a way to get the community involved in what we’re doing and to welcome people to the farm,” she explained. She has been pleasantly surprised by the response and hopes to expand to three one-week sessions next summer.
The youngest group arrived at the calf-washing station where three teen counselors kept a close eye on them. There was a moment of excitement when a toad had to be rescued from a bucket of water and everyone clustered around to see one of the counselors, Justin, 15, carefully pull it out. “Camp is a great learning experience and a lot of fun for the kids,” he said. Fellow counselor, Maggie, 17, added: “I think it’s good for them to know there are many different careers in agriculture. There’s so much more than being a farmer.” Most of the campers said a main motivation for signing up for the camp was their love of animals. “I wanted to see what it was like to work with animals,” explained Cooper, 10. “I like that you get to see what it’s like to live life on a farm,” said Yvette, also 10.
Donna, Clara’s grandmother, had a big smile on her face as she watched over campers nudging their calves along, learning how to show them as they would in a 4-H competition. “I love seeing the kids take an interest, especially because they aren’t from farms,” Donna said. “Now they’ll have an understanding of what goes on on farms.” Last year on the final camp afternoon when parents and friends came to see a demonstration of what the campers had learned, “it was nice to see so much interest from everyone,” she said. “It spreads the word and we like that.” Taking a short break from supervising the feeding and watering of the youngest calves, Clara’s 15-year-old sister and camp counselor, Isabel, said, “Especially at the beginning of the week, some of the kids are scared to be with their calf, but by the end they’re hugging their calf. It’s really fun to show them where their food comes from and how the farm works.”
Delicious hands-on dairy fun
Among the activities at Fairmont Farm camp is make-your-own butter. The group does this in a circle, playing a game while they each hand off the jar. This is a case where many (shaking) hands make lighter work. You can also “churn” with an electric hand mixer or in a food processor.
For home-“churned” butter:
Bring 1 cup heavy cream (preferably not ultra-pasteurized, just “pasteurized”) to room temperature. Pour cream into a pint jar, seal tightly and shake until lumps appear (about seven to ten minutes). Pour off the buttermilk, rinse with clear water, add a little salt if you like, and spread it on bread or crackers.
Options: For quicker butter-making, use smaller plastic containers with less cream and add a clean pebble or marble to each containers for additional friction. (Pebbles can crack glass jars if they are shaken too vigorously.)
Here’s another fun one perfect for hot summer days, a low-tech way to make cool, creamy vanilla ice cream:
- 1 tablespoon sugar, maple syrup or honey
- One-half cup whole milk or half and half
- One-quarter teaspoon vanilla extract
- About 3 trays of ice cubes
- 2 tablespoons coarse salt (found in baking aisle)
Put sweetener, milk or half and half and vanilla into a heavy-duty, quart-size, zip-close bag and seal it. (It’s not a bad idea to double-bag it.) Fill a heavy-duty, gallon-size, zip-close bag half full with ice and add the salt. Place the small bag inside the large one, nesting it within the ice, add remaining ice and seal carefully. Shake until mixture thickens and freezes to the texture of soft-serve, about 10 minutes. Carefully remove small bag and wipe any salt from it. Open and dig in. Note: you can double ice cream mix quantity, but it will take longer to freeze.
Super-Quick Strawberry Frozen Yogurt
When you want something cold and sweet and tangy, this is so easy and delicious, it doesn’t seem fair. Add a frozen banana for a strawberry-banana twist.
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Melissa Pasanen is an award-winning Vermont-based journalist and cookbook author with a focus on food, farming and sustainability. She was the writer for The Cabot Creamery Cookbook (Oxmoor House, 2015).