Food Love Project Farmer Amanda Thibodeau Gets Kids Excited About Farming!

SH:You haven’t always been known as “Farmer Amanda” — how did you decide to become a farmer?

Amanda: After working in healthcare, I decided I wanted to pursue a path in preventive health by becoming a farmer.  But to do that, I needed to learn how to grow food!  In 2010 I got an internship with the living Lands Agrarian Network (LLAN), which gave me the experience, skills and inspiration to become an educational farmer.  (LLAN and Live Healthy Nevada County merged to become Sierra Harvest last year.) For my journeyman training year, LLAN and I approached the Bear Yuba Land Trust (BYLT) and asked to start an educational farm on their Burton homestead, and to my surprise, they said yes!   So after only a season of farming experience under my belt, I started the Food Love Project, with mentorship and volunteer labor from LLAN.  Now, we have trained several interns, and are in our 4th season.

SH: Tell us about your farm, the Food Love Project.

My farm is my favorite place! I designed it to be inviting and experiential — there’s a growing tipi that is filled with plans and wishes, there are flowers you can eat, strawberries to graze on, chickens clucking in the background, and amazing vegetables growing everywhere.  We usually grow about 80 varieties of veggies so there’s always something new and tasty to enjoy.  This last year we started doing U-picks and those are really gratifying — community members come in and pick their own food, and they get so excited!  I love having a place where people feel that it is their own.

SH: 800-1000 students visit Food Love each year to experience 5000 hours of experiential education. What do you hope the kids walk away with?

Amanda: I want them to experience the growing cycle — plant seeds that they can then come back to harvest, and taste the food that they have just picked. I want them to learn through their taste buds – understand that tomatoes taste best in the middle of a hot summer, straight from the plant. Creating a personal connection with these kids is important to me – I want to show them that being a farmer is an option for making a living, and that it’s good to buy food from your local farmer. Growing food is something anyone can do, and it’s fun!

SH: What is the biggest challenge you face in helping kids learn about how great fresh, local produce is?

Amanda: I wish we had more time with the kids on the farm during the school year, to get more in-depth and engage the kids at a deeper level, taking  time experience our farm. We are able to do this better at summer camp, because we have more time and a smaller group.

SH: Tell us about Food Love Summer Camp.

Amanda: We have a different theme every day for a week; past themes include: soil and animals, water and the wild, seeds, and celebrating the harvest. Each day, the campers choose farm chores such as feeding the chickens, harvesting snacks, watering seedlings, and making daily flower bouquets.  Other activities include yoga, scavenger hunts, arts and crafts, farm walks and water games. The week culminates in a harvest party and feast on Friday.

Kids can explore what is interesting to them at their own pace – hunting bugs, spending time with the chickens, engaging in farm-based art projects. They really get to know the farm and develop a sense of ownership and responsibility for the farm chores. We keep it small so that it becomes a really tight group and the kids form strong friendships. And they love eating food straight from the plants!

New this year: we are offering 2 farm days just for teenagers! People kept asking us for something for older kids, so we are excited to create this opportunity. July 9 will be a farm fun day – harvest, plant, and build a solar cooker. August 6 will include a cooking lesson – we will harvest ingredients at the farm, and cook a meal at the Briar Patch Community Cooking School.