RIC’s Nature Camp for Kids

Chef Page Breton demonstrates how to make salsa from the produce grown in RIC's garden. (From left, Rene Breton, RIC student and camp leader; Chef Page Breton; Jim Murphy, RIC sustainability coordinator; and campers.

Chef Page Breton demonstrates how to make salsa from the produce grown in RIC's garden. (From left, Rene Breton, RIC student and camp leader; Chef Page Breton; Jim Murphy, RIC sustainability coordinator; and campers.

 

What if you could drag your kids away from the junk food, iPhones, iPods and video games and take them back to nature for a week?

To answer that question, Rhode Island College held its first Nature Camp for children aged seven to 12 on campus. The kids spent all day outdoors exploring the thick foliage surrounding the 180-acre campus, home to turkeys and other wildlife, a greenhouse, a beehive and a vegetable garden.

One morning was spent in the garden to learn more about growing food. “It’s great to have kids learn the importance of locally grown food,” said RIC Sustainability Coordinator Jim Murphy, who established the camp. “We grow a little of everything. In fact, the garden yielded so much lettuce this summer that the Environmental Club donated it to Amos House in Providence.”

Rene Breton, a RIC senior, is president of the Environmental Club, and John Fulton, a junior, vice president. The two are also Nature Camp leaders. Breton invited her sister, Page Breton, a chef for Dog Lane Café in Connecticut, to come by and show the kids how to make salsa and smoothies from produce picked from the garden. Under a shade tree, the young campers watched as Page sliced and diced, and sprinkled and tasted.

“I’m making a simple peco de gallo style tomato salsa out of basil, garlic, onions, jalapeño peppers, sesame oil, salt and pepper, and lime. I wanted to make a meal that is best for the summer when tomatoes are ripe and sweet and you can find almost all of the vegetables you need from the garden,” she said.

 “What is also nice is that the children are not only learning how to grow their own foods and to eat healthy, they are learning it in the context of community,” Breton added. “Working in the garden and eating meals together is a communal activity that generates a good feeling in itself.”

These campers aren’t the only ones enjoying the garden. Jeff Simson, a custodial worker at RIC’s Office of Physical Plant, has been caretaking the “mini farm” all summer. He waters and weeds after work and even on weekends. He also creates art installations from items found in nature and places them along the periphery of the site. The hope, said both Simson and Murphy, is to get the entire campus involved in the garden.

Until then, Murphy’s campers will be enjoying a visit from a local children’s book author who will have them write about their experiences; they will learn how important bees are to agriculture during their tour of RIC’s beehive, they will engage in art activities, and much more, as Mother Nature beckons.