Keepers of the Earth

The Farm Collaborative Connects Kids to the Future of Farming and Food

Article by Suzanne W. Kirch

Photography by EstatePhotoVideo.com - Kit Mitchell

Originally published in Roaring Fork Lifestyle

Good News: We crave it, we need it, and at the Farm Collaborative there is an abundance of it. Located at Cozy Point Ranch in Snowmass Village, the Farm Collaborative (formerly known as Aspen TREE) is a place where budding young agriculturalists and children of all ages can be inspired to become better stewards of the environment. They can check out farm equipment, learn about ways to reverse the effects of climate change, and even work with the animals who live there.

Much of this teaching takes place during the organization’s weekly Earth Keepers Community Day Camps, which are offered throughout the summer. Created by Aspen’s own singer-activist, the late John Denver, through his former Windstar Foundation once headquartered in Snowmass, the camp is currently led by the farm’s executive director Eden Vardy. The camp engages kids ages 5-11 in all sorts of positive hands-on activities, such as milking goats, feeding chickens, and petting llamas.

Connected by food

It is one thing to know in theory that milk comes from an animal, but quite another to actually watch a baby goat nurse, and then get a chance to taste some of the milk (or maybe even cheese) yourself. The Farm Collaborative hopes to be an educational bridge that connects young people to their food sources. Children can sense that there is something similar between them and many of the animals (especially the energetic young goats) that also want to explore their world through play. As Vardy notes, “Animals are a tangible gateway to a nature connection, and allow us to engage with the world."

Guided by nature

Chickens are another primary way to invite children into making more connections with their world. Who, for example, can resist wanting to touch the soft yellow fluffiness of a newly hatched chick? During camp, children are allowed to gently hold these fragile animals, see the rooster keep a watchful eye on his flock, and even gather eggs. This is a chore that is taken seriously, and done with care. Afterward, there is a certain pride associated with a job well done, and kids have something tangible to show Mom or Dad at the end of the day. It also drives home the message that these domesticated creatures are dependent on human beings treating them kindly and responsibly, in order to survive.

Rooted in place

One animal that, while a transplant to this region, is able to not only survive but thrive at the farm’s elevation of 7,820 feet, is the llama. Children can feed the Farm Collaborative’s llamas plants that have been grown at the nearby FarmPark, and, once again, discover the satisfaction of taking care of another living organism. Of course, petting them is also encouraged, and during one of the weeks at camp, kids can learn about dyeing the animal’s soft wool to use it for various arts and crafts projects. Or, maybe they’ll notice the llamas doing something familiar: sticking out their tongues—or even spitting—when they are annoyed! Learning that animals have feelings can encourage the campers to develop greater empathy.

In this way, the “E” in the contemporary STEM approach to education gains extra meaning: Not only are Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math important concepts, but also Empathy and Environmentalism. Educators in the Roaring Fork Valley can incorporate all these elements in interdisciplinary lesson plans for their students by taking them to the facilities (after a training) for free. A field trip, or regular visits to the Farm Collaborative can be full of positivity and gratitude: for children, for their world, and for our future. Vardy and his wife River Morgan lead by example, and their two young children Bija and Jasper are already avid farmers and environmentalists, spending memorable summer days with their parents at Earth Keepers camps. Once they reach 11 years of age, they may become part of the apprenticeship program, where they could mentor their peers by helping them, as Vardy says, to “zoom out from our human-centric world.”

Camp founder Denver, whose songs about Colorado’s beauty continue to inspire millions to explore nature, surely felt the same about connecting community to farming and food, as reflected in one of his most popular tunes:  

Well I wouldn't trade my life for diamonds and jewels

I never was one of them money hungry fools

I'd rather have my fiddle and my farmin' tools

Thank God I'm a country boy.

For more good news, or to donate to the Farm Collaborative’s capital campaign, be sure to visit them in person at Cozy Point Ranch or online at TheFarmCollaborative.com.

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