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Healdsburg area summer camp teaches kids about farm life

Rosalie Pochan and Iona Meyers arranged colorful flower bouquets ahead of the big family pizza lunch.

It was the last day of camp. The 8-year-old girls chatted about the many activities they had engaged in over the week. They mixed ingredients to create natural lip balm, made sauerkraut using vegetables from the garden, ate berries and learned about composting at Owl Camp at Preston Farm and Winery northwest of Healdsburg.

The family-owned winery teamed up with the Santa Rosa-based nonprofit LandPaths to host the weeklong camp, which concluded Friday.

“I like that we get to be creative and we never went to the store - not once - to get our food all week,” Pochan said.

Geared toward kids ages 6 to 13, the camp will likely be held next summer due to its popularity. It gave campers a chance to spend time outdoors cooking their own meals, picking fruit, monitoring tadpoles in the nearby stream and catching butterflies. They also participated in craft activities, including painting postcards and weaving lanyards.

“I really liked playing in the creek at the end of the day and making the pickles,” said 8-year-old Manny Soto, who took part in the camp at Preston Farm and Winery.

Lou Preston moved to the Dry Creek Valley property in 1975. The farm has since expanded to 125 acres, where his family grows wine grapes, vegetables, fruit, olives, grain and keeps livestock.

Although it was the first time his family teamed up with LandPaths to host the camp on the farm, they have worked with the nonprofit for years, coordinating field trips and donating fresh food. Preston said he was thrilled about holding the summer camp at the farm.

“Working with kids at this age is something I have not done in a long time and seeing my own property through their eyes has opened me up to totally new experiences, too,” he said.

Since 1996, LandPaths has focused its efforts on reconnecting Sonoma County residents with farming and the outdoors through educational programs, including its nature-based summer Owl Camps.

The nonprofit also has held each summer since 2011 the Owl Camp at Rancho Mark West northeast of Santa Rosa. The weeklong camp sessions will start at the beginning of July and run through August.

Parents can still sign up their children online at LandPaths.org.

Preston hoped the camp on his farm would inspire children to be more curious about where their food comes from and the art of farming. The average age of a farmer in America is around 60, he said, and that concerns him.

“We have lost the formality of food and have forgotten the hugely important role it plays in our society,” Preston said. “We are beginning to lose the generational exposure of passing on our knowledge of food to children, and so this is another reason this camp is so important.”

In cities like Healdsburg and Cloverdale, just north of Santa Rosa, opportunities for children to attend camp significantly decrease, said Jessica Holloway, the camp leader for LandPaths. She said camps are expensive and hard for parents to access. That's why she worked hard to bring Owl Camp to the north county farm - to provide all kids with an opportunity to “learn about where their food comes from,” she said.

Holloway said her team offered scholarships to at least 13 of the 33 campers. “We want this to be something all youth can be part of,” Holloway said.

The waiting list for next year's north county camp is already full, she said.

You can reach Staff Writer Alexandria Bordas at 707-521-5337 or alexandria.bordas@pressdemocrat.com.

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