Red Gate Farm starting camping program

BUCKLAND — For the last 10 years, the 60-acre nonprofit Red Gate Farm has been raising sheep, goats, bees and chickens, growing vegetables and making maple syrup.

But in the eyes of owner Ben Murray, the real “crop” here is “growing children who are hard-working, confident and kind.”

“We have all these ‘slices’ of (farming), so that, when kids come here, they get to see a little bit of all of them. For that reason,” he explained, “our resources are spent on developing the farm as an educational place for kids — but running it as though it were a working farm.”

Home-schooled children and other school groups have been coming here for hands-on farming experience, on field trips, weekend family days, and in summer day camps. But in the fall, Red Gate will begin offering week-long camp programs, in which chaperoned school groups of up to 40 people will rise at dawn — just as farmers do — and eat meals made from foods grown here.

To teach children how to cook what Murray calls “farm-fresh, real food,” Red Gate is trying to raise $12,000 to build a kitchen that will serve 40. So far, Red Gate Farm has raised nearly $10,000 on the Kickstarter fundraising website. Red Gate has until April 17 to raise at least $12,000 on that website. If the deadline and goal aren’t met, all the money donated so far will be refunded to the donors.

Most of that money will be used to purchase a commercial-scale stove with a ventilation hood that meets state standards.

Twelve wood-framed platformed wall tents, with screened doors and windows, will be constructed for the campers, with four sleeping cots for each tent.

Portable toilets and private shower facilities will also be built.

The adult chaperones with each school group will be responsible for watching the children, although four farm staff members will also be living on-site.

“We do all our background checks on everybody, as we already do for the day programs,” said Murray.

The farm-day will start at 6 a.m., with chores to be done before breakfast.

“I have loved having kids coming here for the day. But to have the kids experience the life … Do you work before you eat your breakfast? Feed animals before you feed yourself?”

“They’ll do hard work during the day, and then go to sleep tired,” he said. “There are no streetlights.” Murray said some children, from cities, “are going to see beautiful stars and hear owls for the first time in life.”

Besides giving children a 24/7 perspective on farm life, the week-long camps may also attract more school groups from farther locations, which means more business for this farming educational center. Murray said the farm costs about $200 per day to run.

“We have been struggling to remain sustainable, but we can’t do it for free,” he said. “Even our fees are essentially subsidized fees.”

Because children in the day programs have had to be dropped off and picked up at day’s end, most who enroll are within a two-hours’ drive of this Apple Valley farm. But if groups can stay a week, schools from farther away may be interested.

“What we do is centered around kids and value development,” said Murray. “Farming provides character values. Hard work, seeing the effect of your work, having responsibilities, challenges students.”

“If we say, ‘Today, you’re going to walk the ox,” kids look terrified,” said Murray. But after they learn they can safely guide such a large animal, they gain a confidence “that translates into the next steps they take in life.”

“We’re not training kids to be farmers but, what I take away, is they’re better able to handle some project that’s daunting. To me, that’s success.”

For more information about Red Gate and its fundraiser, go to: