By Jessica Mozo
You might say Tap Root Farm offers an introduction to farming for the agriculturally challenged. The 300-acre cattle operation in Franklin is one of several Tennessee farms that hosts summer farm camps, giving kids a hands-on look at agriculture.
“We noticed many years ago that people love to come and hang out at the farm for a day,” says Susan Ingraham, director of fun at Tap Root Farm and president of the Tennessee Agritourism Association. “My dad has taught many a young man how to work on Saturdays, and we love using our farm to bring joy to other people.”
Tap Root Farm Camp
Ingraham’s parents, Frank and Frances Ingraham, bought Tap Root Farm in 1961 and have been raising beef cattle, row crops and hay ever since. Today, Susan Ingraham oversees the farm’s operations with the help of her parents, Farm Manager Russ Harkai, and her teenage son and daughter, Kurt and Erica.
In 2008, Ingraham kicked off Tap Root Farm’s first summer day camp for kids from kindergarten through eleventh grade, and it has grown steadily each year. In 2011, Tap Root Farm is offering three weeklong camps with a maximum of 50 campers at each.
“We have done school field trips and farm tours, and we still do. But I’m more of a relationship person, so I like camps because we get to know the kids, along the same lines as my dad did teaching kids how to work on the farm,” Ingraham says. “These kids experience farm life and do what we do – they don’t just come see what we do and then leave. They garden all week, planting, hoeing, harvesting and working in our orchard.”
Campers also learn about Tap Root Farm’s beef sales program. The farm has been selling its all-natural, certified Angus beef directly to consumers since 1996.”
The campers get to go out and fiddle with the cows, and they learn about fencing or whatever is happening on the farm at the time,” Ingraham says. “We are on spring and well water, so we teach them about water and play tug-of-war across the creek. They ride horses every day and learn about tack, and horse and cattle feeding. And if we have any baby animals, they help take care of those.” Tap Root Farm’s beehives are always a popular topic of discussion, followed by a snack of hot biscuits topped with fresh honey.
“We do a lot of activities on our large screened-in porch,” Ingraham says. “There is no TV, iPods, handheld games or cell phones allowed at camp. But parents can always reach their kids through our camp staff.”
The week concludes Friday with the campers cooking a lunchtime feast literally made from the fruits of their labor. “They pick, wash, snap and cook green beans they hoed earlier in the week, and we cook burgers with our beef and cobbler with fruits from our garden,” Ingraham says. “We always make squash casserole with cheese and cracker crumbs, and the kids love it. When they tell their moms they ate squash, the moms are just amazed.”
Friday night, parents are invited for a bonfire, and kids can camp in tents with chaperones overnight under the stars. “We always go on a night hike, and it’s just a lot of fun,” Ingraham says. “These are life experiences many people never get to do if they don’t live on a farm.”
Falcon Ridge Horse Camp
In West Tennessee, Falcon Ridge Farm offers its own version of farm camp with an emphasis on horses. The three-day camp near Jackson is offered twice each summer for kids ages 6 to 16 and focuses on horsemanship basics such as riding and grooming, as well as hayrides, a petting zoo, and arts and crafts.
“In 2010, we had kids from 250 miles away,” says Ray Gilmer, who owns Falcon Ridge Farm with his wife, Mary Ellen, their son, Bart, and daughter-in-law, Becky. “Parents will sometimes come for a mini-vacation and stay in a hotel in Jackson and bring their children to horse camp.”
Falcon Ridge is a working farm where Tennessee Walking Horses are trained and boarded. Bart runs the farm’s agritourism business, which includes a fall festival, Easter egg hunt, Christmas tree patch and country store, birthday parties and family reunions. The farm’s summer horse camps for kids have been so popular, the Gilmers are considering offering a horse camp for adults in the future.
“We teach campers how to get the horse out, clean the stable and groom the horse, and we go over the anatomy of a horse – why his heart beats 40 times per minute, why his legs are so long, how is vision is different than ours,” Gilmer says. “Once we get them acclimated, we’ll put them in our indoor riding arena. By the second day, they’re usually riding by themselves.”
A world champion rider and trainer, Gilmer has been teaching people to ride horses for more than three decades. The Gilmers offer riding lessons year-round. “I got my first horse when I was 4, and I haven’t been without one since,” he says. “They are a great hobby, and if children learn the right way to handle them, it’s a really safe sport you can do all your life. I love watching a child interact with a horse – it gets them off the couch and out of the house, and they love it.”
Back at Tap Root Farm, Ingraham’s favorite part of farm camp is building relationships with the campers and “being a positive influence in their lives.” “It’s about building integrity,” she says. “We’re helping them learn to become a human being who knows how to contribute to the world.”
2011 Camp Dates and Costs
Tap Root Farm, Franklin
June 13-17, July 18-22 and August 1-5
Limit 50 campers per session
Early registration (ends June 15 for Tennessee Home & Farm readers), $249/week
Late registration (after June 15), $339/week
Visit their website to print application
More Tennessee Farm Camps
Want to send your kids to summer camp? Tennessee 4-H offers a variety of camps geared to specific age groups from fourth grade through twelfth grade. For more information, contact your county’s UT Extension office or click here.
Tennessee FFA members travel from across the state to attend Camp Clements in Van Buren County each year. Visit their website for more details.
The following Tennessee farms offer summer camps. Visit www.picktnproducts.org for details.
Still Hollow Farm, Greeneville/Greene County
J&J Century Farm, Southside/Montgomery County
Gentry’s Farm, Franklin/Williamson County
Tap Root Farm, Franklin/Williamson County
Falcon Ridge Farm, Toone/Hardeman County
Briley House & Farms, Brownsville/Haywood County