TALENT — As elementary school-age children in a summer camp at Rogue Valley Brambles farm paint a chicken coop with scenes of trees, houses and airplanes Tuesday, owner Susan Muller assures them that the chickens will be a lot happier to live in it and lay eggs.
The children have just fed and watered the chicks, given them pet names and checked to make sure they're getting both sun and shade and that their fence is secure.
It's "really fun," said Luna Wilhelm, 6, of Ashland, pulling four fresh eggs out from under laying hens — eggs that will go into the lunch the children will make themselves.
At Brambles this week, the children are learning the whole cycle of food — where it comes from and how it gets to their dining room table.
They're learning to harvest and cook vegetables, feed pigs, water and herd cattle. They're learning that salad dressing is made by mixing olive oil, balsamic vinegar and raspberries.
They're learning that food doesn't really come from the grocery store.
"They love collecting eggs and digging up carrots and harvesting kale for salad at lunch," said Muller, owner with husband Ken of the 10-acre Brambles farm. "Their greatest enthusiasm is for handling chicks and taking responsibility for feeding and watering the one they name. They love hugging cows and feeling for the calf in a pregnant cow."
The farm is organic, a practice the Mullers learned when they served on four farms in France as part of World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms. Susan was educated in Environmental Science at Southern Oregon University and Ken grew up on a commercial farm.
"It's about hands-on farming," said Muller, as she directed the kids' chicken coop painting project. "I want the kids to know exactly where food comes from and how agriculture can be sustainable. They're learning how to take care of animals who are raised for food and they have a hand in preparing it.
"When they eat it, they do so without seeing any packaging and they realize it's not coming from any grocery store."
As they painted the portable coop, the kids learned how it would be moved about the poultry area, with chickens fertilizing grass with dung that drops through the screened floor.
Brambles is hosting the five-day camp in partnership with Rogue Valley Farm to School.
"It lets them know what happens before (food) gets to the store," said Corinne Coe of Rogue Valley Farm to School, a program that links connects local farmers with schools. "There's definitely some bravery involved, like in trying new foods. Some of them didn't want to try unfamiliar food, but by the end of lunch, they were eating it. Some were wary of herding the cows but soon they were getting close and doing it."
The camp runs from 8:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. daily and is open to kids age 6 to 10. Another session is planned Aug. 16-20. Cost is $175. For information, see www.roguevalleybrambles.com or call 541-210-2278.
John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.