Story by Jane Parikh of the Michigan Crossroads Council
Cub Scouts at Rota Kiwan Scout Reservation are sowing seeds for the future through their participation in a unique local food project this summer at camp.
The Seed to Life program was developed by Megan Yankee, Marketing Innovations Manager for the Michigan Crossroads Council, as a way to address the growing demand among Scouting parents for fresh food options for their campers.
“We always want to be on the cutting edge and remain relevant because this is how we will continue to grow our Scouting program,” Yankee said. “Many of our parents are increasingly requesting healthier food options for their Scouts at camp and this program is the perfect way to feed them while also teaching them how to grow fresh food.”
About one acre at Rota Kiwan is dedicated to the Seed to Life initiative. The space now houses a 20’ X 48’ hoop house which contains rows of plants including green beans, bok choy, and a variety of greens, and a 8’ X 9’ chicken coop with eight chickens.
Each day at camp, a few hours are set aside for Scouts to weed and maintain the plants in the hoop house and care for the chickens.
John Worthington, Vice President of Innovations for the Michigan Crossroads Council, said the Seed to Life initiative exemplifies the relevant programming that will address the needs of new generations of Scouts and parents. He cites the double-digit growth in the last five years of the local food movement on a local state and national level.
What began more than 40 years ago with locally-sourced food, available primarily at small food co-ops and farmer’s markets, has expanded into the aisles of major food retailers such as Meijer and Wal-Mart. As this movement continues to grow, so will the need for people who know how to farm using sustainable and responsible practices.
“Our core mission of teaching leadership and life skills that will offer all of our youth opportunities for success will always be a huge part of what we do,” Worthington said. “At the same time we have a responsibility to make sure we are providing the types of programs and services that will prepare our young people for the challenges they face in an ever-changing society.”
Branden Piekarski, farm project manager, said each group of campers spends about one hour each day getting hands-on experience with the plants and chickens.
“We start by sitting them down and asking them what experience they have with growing food and where their food comes from,” Piekarski said. “It’s been a nice surprise to hear that someone in their lives or somebody who farms has taken them to a farmer’s market. I’m pleased that it’s part of their lives in some way.”
A visit to the composting area provides a visual lesson and an opportunity to show the breakdown process of microorganisms
In addition, Piekarski said the campers also have been learning about how far their food travels before getting to them. Many of them don’t realize that 60 percent of food costs go into transporting what they eat.
However, daily visits to the chicken coops are what the campers get the most excited about.
“The kids absolutely love the chickens and like feeding them grass and mealworms,” Piekarski said.
The curriculum and food-related games and activities were developed by Janet DeZwaan, a retired schoolteacher from Kalamazoo who raises her own chickens; Hether Jonna Frayer, owner of the Fresh Food Fairy in Kalamazoo; and Steve Johnkoski, a founding member of Sprout Urban Farms in Battle Creek. All three are members of the Seed to Life Steering Committee which also includes Chris Dilley, director of the People’s Food Co-op in Kalamazoo and Natalie Fuller, owner of the Cheese Lady in Mattawan.
“Each of these individuals brings a unique perspective with a common goal of increasing the local food movement and highlighting its importance to the residents of southwest Michigan,” Yankee said. “Their input has been invaluable.”
While Seed to Life is not what some people may associate with the Scouting movement, Johnkoski said he thinks it is the perfect fit. A former Cub Scout and Boy Scout, he said Scouting is a positive program that continues to foster and encourage positive experiences for its youth.
“The Boy Scouts is an organization that attracts a wide variety of youngsters which means it needs to provide a wide variety of programming,” Johnkoski said. “It seems to me that the Scouts has always been a collection of positive, social things. I use what I learned in Scouting every single day.
“There were no throwaway skills or knowledge that I got. A lot of the lessons we learned were that you need to be a credit to your family, society and community.”
A relative newcomer to Scouting, Piekarski said he thinks it makes sense to place a heavy emphasis on the outdoors and the importance of working together as a community.
Piekarski said he intends to grow the program to include an orchard and opportunities to demonstrate organic gardening techniques that Scouts and their families can replicate at home. He said his next project is to construct raised planting beds with a hoop attachment.
The plants and the animals are the visible part of the program which focuses on building strong social and community bonds. Johnkoski said there is a naturally-occurring interdependence because no one does small garden farming in isolation.
“They are a community of people who care for each other and the earth,” he said. “They learn interpersonal, interdependence and self-reliance skills. You need to have that stuff on board.”
The program will eventually be replicated at properties throughout Michigan that are owned by the Michigan Crossroads Council, Yankee said.
“We want to make these learning opportunities available to each one of our Scouts,” she said.
A retired schoolteacher who now teaches at Kellogg Community College in Battle Creek, Johnkoski said Seed to Life has a lot of potential to impact hundreds of young people each year as well as their families and communities.
“When they come in to that clearing and see those plants growing and learn about the food they get to cook, its proof that something amazing is going to happen,” Johnkoski said. “This is how Scouting connects with youngsters.”
Scouting Wire would like to thank Public Relations Director (West) Jane Parikh of the Michigan Crossroads Council for submitting this story.