Herding goats, feeding chickens and gathering their eggs aren’t a typical week for 14-year-old Thomas Petrella, especially on a university campus just five minutes away from downtown Nashville.
As a participant of Trevecca Urban Farm’s annual Farm Camp, Petrella is learning how to compost, build a lasagna garden, care for animals, plant trees and bake bread from scratch.
Now in its fifth year, high school and middle school students took part in weeklong sessions held June 4-8 and June 18-22, respectively. Over the years, the camp has maintained its focus on building new skills, helping students understand the food system and learning about unethical food production.
When Petrella found out about the camp, he became interested in the idea of handling animals and meeting new people.
“[Herding goats] was really scary and all that before because they were chasing me but I got over it, and it was really fun,” Petrella said.
To help campers better understand where food comes from, organizers prepared a bread baking activity with John Ferris, Pioneer College Caterers executive chef, at the Trevecca cafeteria. Campers worked to grind the wheat they used to make the bread.
“It’s important to make students aware of how their food is being prepared while they’re young,” said Karen Shaw, coordinator for Trevecca Urban Farm. Shaw explained that children often don’t have control over what they eat because they rely on their parents.
“The younger you educate, the more it becomes a habit and a way of life for them,” she said. “So, it’s not so challenging to change those habits as you get older.”
Students paid $150 for the five-day camp that runs from 7:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. and includes meals, a T-shirt and a folder full of camp lessons. Organizers also offer scholarships to students who cannot afford camp admissions.
This year, the camp is hoping to get more student involvement from immigrant communities. Jason Adkins, environmental projects coordinator, recruited students through social media and by visiting schools around the Nashville area.
“A lot of the immigrant communities are coming from agrarian cultures,” he said. “I think it’s really important to give space to immigrant communities in their new city to grow the foods that make them who they are as a people, that have formed their identity as a people.”
Lincoln Adkins, a 9-year-old camper, wants to be able to practice all that he learned during camp when he gets home.
“I’ve been [in the Urban Farm] a lot, and it’s fun to meet new people and see how they interacted with the farm,” he said.
Though this is the first camp Petrella has attended, he said he wants to take part again next year. He says this year’s camp has helped him discover new interests. He’s already planning a project at his house this summer.
“I was thinking I could make a garden at my house after I learned how to [grow] plants,” Petrella said. “Now I love being around goats. I’m not scared of them now because they’re innocent and they’re funny.”
Learn more about Trevecca’s Urban Farm and its programs here.