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At Camp Kumquat, kids get a taste of growing -- and eating -- organic food

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Aug. 9, 2009 - "The Burning Kumquat," Washington University's student-run organic farm, located adjacent to the Alumni House on the Washington University campus, became a free-of-charge urban farm camp this summer.

Co-founded by two students -- myself (garden name: "Dragonfly") and Katie Anderson (garden name: "Chestnut") -- Camp Kumquat brought students and campers, ranging from 9 to 12, together to investigate and reconnect to the sources of their food.

Each day at Camp Kumquat began with harvesting, watering, weeding and playing garden games, such as leaf matching, organic iron chef and veggie scavenger hunts.

Then the campers and counselors prepared healthy snacks, such as blueberry mint yogurt, recording recipes so that they could learn creative ways to eat nutritiously.

Every day, visitors volunteered their time and expertise to Camp Kumquat. Among them were Marsha Giambalvo, a beekeeper from Backdoor Harvest; Briana Gross, Washington University plant biologist; and Brian Pelletier, chocolate maker from Kakao.

Washington University's food catering service, Bon Appetit, generously donated daily snacks and lunches. The campers mapped out the origin of every ingredient in their lunch, realizing that almost all of their meals are internationally grown!

Much of the learning was hands-on activities -- tracing their bodies, making collages of the food they eat, building city blocks and filling in vacant lots with gardens. Afterward, the campers had take-home projects and wrote entries in their journals about the day's activities.

Every Wednesday the campers conducted mini-farmers' markets to provide fresh produce and nutritious recipes for themselves and their families. One week's recipe was "Kale Chips." The next, "Honey Glazed Carrots." The campers joined the students of the Burning Kumquat at the end of the session to sell their fresh produce at the North City Farmer's Market, at 14th Street and St. Louis Avenue, just across the street from Crown Candy Kitchen.

Each day at Camp Kumquat revolved around an environmental food-related theme. One day the question was: "Is this one big CORN-y joke?!" The day featured corn-on-the-cob relay races, movement games simulating pollen transfer, and investigating food labels to identify the ingredients derived from corn.

In the afternoon, the campers excitedly awaited "Cornlympics." They used corn-on-the-cob in place of plastic batons for relay races around the track (to represent corn plastics)! By the end of the day, the campers compiled a list of everything they learned that has corn in it. They also researched questions -- "Why is corn so commonly grown in America? What does it do to my body to consume processed corn ingredients?"

The camp ran in two sessions: Session I ran from June 15 to July 3; and the second session finished up on Aug. 7. Chestnut, Dragonfly, and the campers all pitched in to maintain a blog about camp.

Jen Swanson is one of the directors of Camp Kumquat.