- Benee Hershon
Spring Community Member Spotlight: Jeffrey P. Smith Farm Scholarship
In the United States, summer is synonymous with summer camp. Children look forward to summer camp year-round, with camp enthusiasts often stating that they “live ten months for two”. Camp is often looked back as a fundamental and often identity shaping experience which allows campers to learn new skills, be themselves, have fun, and play.
Unfortunately, camp is not an affordable experience and not accessible to all. Since 2009, the Jeffrey P. Smith Farm Scholarship, a program organized by the Monadnock Localvores and Cheshire County Conservation District (CCCD), has set out to expand accessibility by providing Cheshire County and regional children an opportunity to attend summer farm camp experiences and programs.
The Jeffrey P. Smith Farm Scholarship endeavors to connect young people with agriculture & the natural world. Through this scholarship, the Monadnock Localvores hope to inspire the next generation of local farmers and local food supporters, by giving regional children an opportunity, through summer camp, 4-H programs, or membership to NOFA NH, to experience sustainable farming practices first-hand and watch their efforts bear fruit.
The scholarship not only provides meaningful experiences for young people in the Monadnock region, but also supports a strong farm future.
During his lifetime, Jeff Smith, a former member of the Monadnock Localvore Steering Committee, enthusiastically supported sustainability and local agriculture.
Campers Participate in an Activity at Orchard Hill, Photo Credit: Eleanor Elbers
In conversation with his wife Dottie Smith, who is also a member of the Monadnock Localvore Steering Committee, she shared, “Jeff always loved the outdoors. As a kid in elementary school, he would eat his lunch really fast, because the quicker you ate, the sooner you were able to go out to play. Being outside was his absolute favorite thing to do”.
Dottie Smith and Amanda Littleton Table for the Scholarship Program, Photo Credit: CCCD
Dottie noted that after they got married, every place they lived they would start gardens together, “One of the things he frequently said is that you always must leave your campsite better than you found it. To him, the ‘campsite’ is wherever you are! His priority was not taking from the earth, but giving to it, whether building soil, planting for family, friends, and wildlife, or creating more beauty, utility, and sustainability in the world”.
Jeff devoted his career to wildlife and sustainability, working for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and later running several businesses focused on renewable energy and sustainability. Through his work endeavors, he promoted the idea of responsible stewardship.
He also devoted his free time to nature and the garden. She adds, “He had this tremendous curiosity and this insatiable sense of wonder. He just loved animals, growing things, the beauty of nature, he couldn’t get enough of it”.
Dottie recalled a memory of preparing for a garage sale, only to find a mess in the garage from a mouse and her babies. When the mother escaped the garage, Jeff carefully scooped up the babies to reunite them outside with their mother. She reflects, “Even his enemies he spared…it shows what a loving wonderful thought he had towards nature”.
Jeff and Dottie first became involved with the Monadnock Localvores Steering Committee because they both saw the importance of supporting local youth and farms. When asked why the program is important, Dottie shared, “Kids are the future”. From Jeff’s perspective, he wanted people to experience eating something that is fresh and local.
Dottie reflected on the significance of the program and its greater impact, “If children don’t learn to love something, they won’t protect it. It is so important to encourage the wonder and the curiosity through trial and error and the experimentation of kids, so that when they grow up they will see that nature is not just a convenience, it is the way our whole world works”.
Campers Participate in an Activity at Orchard Hill, Photo Credit: Eleanor Elbers
With a wide range of program offerings, local youth who otherwise would not be able to attend a summer camp can learn vegetable farming, dairy production, beef cattle husbandry, goat husbandry, and even veterinary science. Programs also offer opportunities for outdoor play, cooking, cultural experiences, and more. The plethora of programs provide opportunities for campers in kindergarten through high school. Many scholarship recipients continue to attend the program offerings each summer.
One of the summer camps involved in the program is day camps at Orchard Hill in Alstead, NH. Their camp programs focus on food, farming, nature, culture, and community.
On the summer camp program, Eleanor Elbers, Camp Director and Founder shared, “I feel that children and youth bring vitality to the environment, so let’s bring the farm to them. And if it means we need to adapt the language or how we do what we make, from what we grow and pick, let’s do that, but let’s give everyone the skill to cook and grow…let’s teach every person to feel the rhythm of the earth”.
Campers Farm at Orchard Hill, Photo Credit: Eleanor Elbers
The camp programs at Orchard Hill accommodate children of all ages, including a new program specifically geared towards teenagers. With limited local program options for teenagers, Elbers shared the significance of this program, “…It creates a safe place, where no matter what your difference, those teenagers could just come and be themselves”.
Teenage Program at Orchard Hill, Photo Credit: Eleanor Elbers
Elbers shared that the Jeffrey P. Smith Farm Scholarship has changed their programs reach, allowing youth of a diversity of backgrounds to participate.
Elbers emphasized the importance of connecting youth to nature and hands-on skills, especially in such a digital culture which has been further heightened by the pandemic. Examples of skills and activities campers may learn include farming, baking bread or pizza, making salve, making jams, collecting wood, and playing along the camp’s pond. Elbers is also excited to introduce campers to new cultures, with the Sankofa dance theater, a Baltimore leading West African ensemble, visiting every summer for performances and workshops. Elbers also looks forward to featuring a Puerto Rican immersion week this summer with culturally relevant food, music, and arts. Orchard Hill is proud to have camp leaders who also share their cultures of origins, which connects local youth to the world beyond our rural region.
Orchard Hill’s summer camp’s focus is community, Elbers reflected, “This is a place where we have been at this for 50 years…we are people who really believe strongly in the power of community and welcoming everybody’s gifts. This is about the farm piece, and the connection to the land, which creates a connection to each other”.
Campers Hike at Orchard Hill, Photo Credit: Eleanor Elbers
The Jeffrey P. Smith Farm Scholarship is currently accepting applications for the 2023 season, and applications are due March 31, 2023.
With a wide range of opportunities, campers can spend the summer learning new skills, having fun, and building connection to nature, a vision that Jeff Smith deeply supported.
In closing, on Jeff’s passion for nature, Dottie shared, “We don’t inherit the earth from our parents, we borrow it from our children. That’s the way he lived his life, he was borrowing the land, and he was supposed to make it better, before he left the earth, which he certainly did”.
To learn more and apply, visit: https://www.cheshireconservation.org/monadnock-localvores
This program would not be possible without the funding support of the You Have Our Trust Fund of Fidelity Charitable. Matching donations provided by the Cheshire County Farm Bureau, Keene Elm City Rotary Club, Keene Lions Club, and the generosity of community members.
If you would like to make a donation to support future funding of the scholarship, please do so here!
Donations to the fund may also be made by mail, checks can be made payable to "CCCD" and addressed to 11 Industrial Park Dr., Walpole, NH 03608. Please include “Localvore” in the memo line. Contributions of any amount are greatly appreciated and make a difference!