It’s the first week of June and it’s the first day of Cure Organic Farm’s sold-out weekly summer camps for kids aged six to nine. As I walk into the large sunlit yard behind Anne and Paul Cure’s modest ranch home, a handful of parents and kids linger at the picnic tables, enjoying the midafternoon shade. The hot hoop houses, where insects tap loudly against the clear plastic, are brimming with heirloom varieties you won’t see at the grocery store—from Tiny Tim tomatoes to black bell peppers.
At the back of the yard, a parent pleads with his daughter to leave the chicken coop and head home. “Honey, the chickens will be there tomorrow.” She is unconvinced; she does not want to leave. It’s this kind of enthrallment with animals and plants that Anne and Paul Cure, founders of Cure Organic Farm, look forward to cultivating in children every summer.
“We call six to nine years the ‘enchantment years,’” Paul tells Organic Connections. “When kids garden, when they have a chance to interact with farm animals at this age, it really influences them.” Children are introduced to the task of catching chickens on the first day, and it’s often the animals they fall in love with first, notes Anne. Then they fall in love with plants.
This season marks a decade of summer camps at Cure, which now grows over 100 varieties of organic vegetables, herbs and flowers on 12 acres just six miles from downtown Boulder, Colorado. The farm provides fresh produce, eggs and meats to families and restaurants within a fifty-mile radius of the farm. The CSA (community supported agriculture) program feeds up to 180 families during the summer.
“Our goal is to show kids where their food comes from, to teach them about the ecology of a diversified small farm,” Paul explains. “It’s all part of our mission to grow healthy food on land that we love, and to complete the circle by connecting the community to the land where their food is grown,” adds Anne. “We also want to dispel the ‘bacon tree’ myth,” says Paul. “Kids don’t usually have a problem with knowing they are eating the animals that they know from the farm. The parents sometimes do, though.”
For children who already enjoy the farm’s produce at home (via the CSA or farmers’ market), farm camp affords the perfect opportunity to take that connection to local food even deeper, Anne points out. “There’s the immediate gratification of seeing the seed you planted come up. They’ve watered it. They’ve weeded. All of a sudden there’s a living thing, and they made it happen!” Kids know the difference between real work and the busy work that others tend to give them, she muses. When they come to the farm, they feel empowered.
Each year, the Cures hire two full-time education interns to lead the camps. With just ten kids accepted into each week’s program, the interns really get to know each child and have the opportunity to impart knowledge and skills gleaned from their studies in biology, ecology or agriculture outside the farm. “It’s a learning process for the interns too,” says Paul. “They develop a sense for what works for kids and what doesn’t.”
Anne grew up on a farm in Upstate New York, the youngest of six children. Paul grew up in suburban Detroit. When they decided over a decade ago to make a living by farming, Paul had some hesitation, but he says that the timing was right. The farm-to-table restaurant philosophy was just taking off in Boulder, with chefs like Kimbal Musk and Hugo Matheson (cofounders of The Kitchen) eager to build relationships with local farmers.
Now, a true farm-to-table meal—the “farm lunch”—is one of the central experiences every week at camp. The children harvest the produce, wash and prepare the foods in the farm store kitchen, create invitations for the farm staff, make place mats, cook the meal, and enjoy eating together with the entire farm family. “There’s real enchantment with it,” says Paul. “We want kids to walk away with the feeling that food can be special every day, not just on Thanksgiving.
“We take a humanist approach to local food,” continues Paul, who has a graduate degree in philosophy. “We want to support local foods across generations and economic status.”
With two kids of their own now, ages six and 20 months, their goals for the farm are modest: “We just want to feed the people who live around 75th and Valmont”; but their inspiring commitment to local foods has already spread well beyond state lines. Former interns are now starting their own farms in Nebraska and Texas and as far afield as New York.
“I just got a text today from a friend who saw Anne’s picture in an office building in New York City,” reports Paul. A few years ago Anne was featured in an info-art piece, “Community Supported Agriculture,” created by Douglas Gayeton, the artist and photographer whose work on sustainable food systems has turned into a national multiplatform educational effort called the Lexicon of Sustainability. Gayeton and his team also created a short film featuring Anne, which aired on PBS.
However families become inspired to connect with local foods in their community, they don’t have to go to great lengths to tap into kids’ thirst for growing, their natural curiosity, says Paul. “It can be as simple as growing something in a red Solo cup on your windowsill,” he encourages. “Go to the pumpkin patch, pick apples, participate in seasonal opportunities to be out on farms. Then bring those foods home and cook meals together.”
Learn more about Cure Organic Farm at www.cureorganicfarm.com.