Farm Camp Takes Teens From the ’Burbs to the Barn

9/22/2012 7:00 AM
By Doreen Barker New York Correspondent

This summer, Barrows Farm in Lisle, N.Y., where I work as farm manager, hosted its first-ever farm camp.

It isn’t like the farm doesn’t have its fair share of visitors that stop in to see the animals on the farm. Owner Richard Barrows says, “We have more of a petting zoo than anything else.”

Even though the two campers, Barrows’ nieces, were members of the family only one generation removed from a dairy farm, they had no idea what farming was about. They now reside in Texas in an urban-suburb community that doesn’t allow any form of livestock.

This summer brought the visitor experience to a new level. Having two teenage girls attend a sort of experimental farm camp wasn’t a joyous occasion, but I really wanted to share the experience with them.

Truthfully, it all started as a joke between me and their mother, Jennifer Arsenault, who is Barrows’ sister. Having grown up on a small dairy farm, Arsenault wanted her girls to experience some of the things she did while growing up.

Over several months of delightful banter, it was decided that during one week of their summer vacation, Arsenault and her daughters, Ashley, 15, and Autumn, 12, would come up every morning to the farm when we did our morning chores at 6 a.m.

Three days after their arrival from Texas, farm camp started.

The first morning wasn’t all that bad, if you could get around the complaining about the smell of manure, the hysteria of chickens protecting their eggs and the fear of calves. Since we run our cows on rotational grazing, the first early morning pasture walk also included extremely wet pant legs and feet. It was comical to listen to the two girls beg to go back to their camper to change their clothes and take a shower.

As the week went on, I noticed a transition in both of the girls. They weren’t nearly as miserable about being in the barn and they were actually gathering eggs with no fear of those chicken pecks as they reached inside the nesting boxes. They also learned that suckling on fingers is a natural reaction for a calf. There was still a respectful fear of the animals, but they were growing accustomed to the “animal antics”.

When they started asking to come for evening chores, I knew we had succeeded at our goal — not an easy venture with two girly girls who spend lots of time on their hair, make-up and nails.

Over the course of the week, they each took turns milking our Jersey cow, Belle (who is a rescue). They also fed milk to the calves, fed the chickens, gathered eggs and took pasture walks to bring the cows up for milking time. By the end of the week, they were old pros at all those tasks. Even their mother got involved with bringing the cows in from pasture and milking the cow.

To us, what made it all worthwhile, was when the two girls asked to bring a friend to share the experience. They brought Connor to visit and he also learned how to milk a cow and gather eggs.

One of the most memorable experiences for them was seeing the garbage can turkey. The nesting turkey who took over our compost pail outside of the barn was a big hit.

At the end of farm camp, we asked each of the girls to write an essay about their experience. Below is the text, in their own words:

Autumn Arsenault

Bleep! Bleep! Bleep! The alarm sound which could only mean I had to go do morning chores! I couldn’t say that I was overly excited about getting up at 6 in the morning, but I wasn’t completely upset about the idea. We got to milk Ma (aka Belle) and feed Chuck, Tommy and Del, the three little calves, and the chickens.

My favorite part about the whole thing was feeding the calves. They are really sweet, and after you give them their milk, they like to suck on your fingers. I also enjoyed petting the new calves and holding the new baby chicks.

We also had to collect eggs, which was interesting because we saw a turkey nesting in a trash can. Plus I got to talk to the turkeys and they would talk back with their gobbles.

Overall, it was a really great experience, and I would do it all again if I had the chance.

Ashley Arsenault

The dogs are scratching at the door and the sun’s dim light is seeping in through the bedroom windows. That can only mean one thing: It’s 6 in the morning and time for farm chores.

When my mom first told me that I would be getting up at 6 every morning for a week on summer vacation, I was less than excited. The last thing I wanted to do was wake at the wee hours of the morning to milk a cow and feed some calves, but I figured I would at least give it a try (mostly because I was forced into it).

I’ll admit, the first day or two was, for lack of a better word, annoying. I couldn’t wait to get out of my stinky barn clothes and back into my nice warm bed. I wasn’t used to the chilly weather, the smell or the constant nudge of a calf’s head wanting to suck on my fingers. Needless to say, the first couple of days at farm camp weren’t all that thrilling.

But, once I got used to my jeans being wet knee-high from the morning dew, the early hour and the smell of the barn, I actually started looking forward to the farm chores each morning. I couldn’t wait to count the eggs, milk Ma (aka Belle), or especially let the little calves suck on my fingers!

One of my favorite memories of summer 2012 will definitely be when Connor came up to milk the cow. He was pretty excited and I think he had fun. We sometimes still talk about his trash can turkey!

But overall, I think what made Barrows Farm Camp one of the most fun weeks of summer was seeing how much care and love for animals and passion was put into the barn itself. Rich and Doreen really are animal people, and it shows.

So, thanks guys for a great experience. I’m grateful I was lucky enough to do this, even though I didn’t seem so at 6 in the morning.


One of the main goals of Barrows Farm is to teach others about the care, dedication and concerns that go into agricultural food production systems on our farm, demonstrating the methods of calf rearing, milking, rotational grazing of cattle, pastured poultry and beef production. Explanation of value-added benefits like composting, gardening, canning and cheese making are also available.

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