Patrick McNiff and fiancé Kelly Barr of Pat’s Pastured are intent on introducing youth to all aspects of farm life. This year is their first time offering a summer farm camp, where kids can learn where their food comes from, go on nature walks, feed some pigs and get good and dirty. Patrick is the farmer and Kelly is a certified teacher with a decade of experience, which makes them the perfect pair to give kids a more complete understanding of our food web, both cultivated and uncultivated. It’s a noble cause, perhaps even nobler than Pat making my favorite bacon.
There’s a lot of things you can do on a farm. A kids’ camp isn’t necessarily the first thing that comes to mind. Where did the farm camp idea come from?
My partner Kelly is a fourth grade teacher at Paul Cuffee School, which is a charter school in Providence. She’s a great teacher, and lives on the farm with me. I used to be at Casey Farm for years, and [while there] we started just talking about stuff on the farm that she would want to do. I’ve been involved in agriculture for a lot of years, and education for a lot of years and she’s involved in education, so it was kind of a natural path to have a camp. Kelly and a few of the other teachers at the school are the lead counselors. She’s running it, and I’m the background farmer.
What’s your vision for a farm camp?
It’s deeper than a petting zoo, or just agro-tourism kind of thing. It’s really allowing the kids an intense experience for the week. Our farm is a beautiful spot, and there’s a lot of nature and woodlands. Kelly and I have this idea that kids need to be outdoors and in nature more. You know, most kids don’t even get recess in school. Sometimes just having kids being able to run on a green lawn is pretty awesome. We have a great farm for that, not only the animal and vegetable side of things, [but] the natural and wild parts of the farm as well.
Have you had any ‘aha’ moments over the years?
One that always sticks out is when we were doing field trips. We’d have kids show up and they’d look in the chicken coop and ask, “why do you keep your eggs with your chickens?” They were confused by the idea that eggs and chickens go together. [I’d ask] “Where do you think they should be kept?” and they would say, “the refrigerator.” Frankly a lot of adults would think that too. Connecting them to where their eggs come from was a surprise.
I’ve got to ask about eating. What are some snacks at the farm camp?
We’ve done these garden burritos over the years. It’s where the kids get to harvest a lettuce leaf (the burrito shell) and put all the ingredients from the garden into it. We’re also growing strawberries this year that will ripen up around the time when the kids will be in. I’m excited to see their faces when they taste strawberries that they hand-picked when they are as ripe as can be. We want to give the memory of where their food comes from for these kids so they can remember it throughout their lives. I had an experience when I was a kid at a farm that spoke to me. That’s what we’re trying to do here.
You mentioned that your farm isn’t all farmland, that there are some wild areas. How will the kids get to learn about them?
[We’re] trying to get them to explore what’s in their environment, then they’ll either draw about it or write about it or do rubbings of leaves. We have a lot of woodland areas, so kids will get to explore leaves, roots and seeds… those kind of things. We have the Scrabbletown Brook here too so they’ll get to check that out and explore a freshwater wetland area.
We’ll probably wind up harvesting acorns out of the woods from last season, feed them back to the pigs and talk about how the pigs are recyclers. They’ll also get to see all the wildlife. We have lots of great birds, deer, woodchucks… they’ll get to see Mother Nature a little uncultivated.
830 South Road, East Greenwich