When we started working on an article about Camp W, it was going to be about the solar array that covers nearly the entire roof of the dining hall. It is an impressive system, installed by Southern Vermont Solar, providing the electricity used by the camp and collecting credits when the camp is not open.
Talking about that system with Sean Ashcraft, the camp’s director, made us realize there was a lot more to Camp W that would be of interest to our readers than just a solar array. The camp’s approach to life and the environment dictated renewable electricity, but that approach extends to touch just about everything that goes on at the camp, and that includes everything that touches on the lives of the campers while they are there.
Camp W is in the hills to the west of Brattleboro, Vermont. The campers can be as young as four years old, and as old as seventeen. The goal of the camp is to connect each child with nature and natural cycles as fully as possible. Included in that approach is a recognition that we human beings are part of nature, and so our health and well-being are given high value.
All aspects of living are touched by the camp’s approach to living, and activities go beyond what we might think of as common at camps. The camp’s work with food provides an excellent example.
Camp W is getting increasingly reliant on growing its own food, using systems that are based on organic farming. Campers do much of the gardening, including such things as learning to identify problems that might come up in the garden and harvesting to increase yields. Kids harvest eggs from the camp’s chickens. Eggs are just about the only things on the menu that are not vegetarian, and a vegan menu is optional. Even the youngest campers, who may be four years old, participate in gardening, doing such things as looking for bugs and picking cherry tomatoes. The kids also get some experience with wilderness cooking. The chef is a dietitian with a master’s degree in food health.
To a great degree, the kids participate in maintaining their own health. They are taught how to use filters for water they get from springs, including filters they make themselves. They check for ticks regularly. The camp teaches them how to keep comfortable when the days are wet and cold. The kids help with composting. They are able to learn that even their urine has value as it is collected by the Rich Earth Institute. The camp has a nurse to attend to any issues that might come up.
There is a lot of bush craft on the agenda. The kids learn to make spoons and bowls. They also learn firecraft, making fires with and without birch bark as kindling. Arts and crafts are related as much as possible to the real world, and the campers also learn about carpentry in general.
The things we might think about as camp activities are not neglected. Children swim daily. They climb trees and rocks. They go on hikes and maintain the trails. They camp out overnight. They sing, tell stories, and do theater activities.
Camp W has up to about 120 kids participating, of whom up to 90 live at the camp for their stay there. Of course, the camp has had to adapt itself to the realities of Covid-19 in the last year. The system in use requires children to quarantine at home for two weeks prior to camp, and then while at camp, they are pretty much isolated with the staff and each other.
Camp W is a non-profit organization. Potential campers in need of financial help financially can apply for scholarships. But the camp also works for general benefit of all in other ways. As we mentioned above, the solar array on the roof of the dining hall is big enough to supply all the electricity the camp uses while it is in session. When it is not in session, the array continues to supply electricity, which is banked by Green Mountain Power. Families in need can apply for help, using those credits to lower their costs.
Camp W’s website is www.campw.org. See Camp W’s ad on page 21.