Lucila De Alejandro, Co-Creator of Suzie's Farm
Related Story: From Garden To Plate: Summer Camp At Suzie's Farm
CAVANAUGH: Digging around in dirt and chasing bugs are familiar past times for kids on their summer vacation! But they usually don't learn much from the experience. A summer program at San Diego's Suzie's Farm is determined to turn dirty hands into a learning experience. Kids from kindergarten through High School can find out how seeds turn into plants, how eggs turn into chickens, all while eating enough vegetables to make any parent proud. I'd like to woman Lucila de Alejandro, cocreator of Suzie's farm.
DE ALEJANDRO: It's a privilege to be here.
CAVANAUGH: Now, the chance to get really dirty is enough to get young kids excited about this program. How much digging will they be doing?
DE ALEJANDRO: They're going to get dirty! I promise.
[ LAUGHTER ]
DE ALEJANDRO: If I don't see dirty kids on the farm, I know they didn't have a good time. So on a daily basis, they will be planting, harvesting transplanting, turning compost, feeding our chickens, they're going to be very active in the process of growing their food.
CAVANAUGH: Now, remind us about Suzie's Farm.
DE ALEJANDRO: It's located south of Imperial Beach, we're about 3 miles north of the border. Off of Interstate 5. We have 140 certified organic acres there. And our mission really is to bring people closer to the source of their nourishment. We want people to know where their food comes from, and to know each other and to know themselves. And we think that the farm is a way that that can happen.
CAVANAUGH: And you also have a community-supported agriculture, or CSA program. Tell us about that.
DE ALEJANDRO: Sure. The CSA is one of the quickest ways that you'll get to know the farm. You can sign up to support the farm by prepurchasing a share of the farm. In return, over a 12-week period, you get a weekly or biweekly box of whatever's best and in season. So right now, the eggplant and the cucumbers are coming, and the broccoli and the cabbage are leaving. But in December, you won't get tomatoes and you shouldn't because they're not good in December. But you'll get the best cauliflower you've ever had.
CAVANAUGH: Now, it's interesting, because Suzie's Farm from the get-go had a major goal of educating people. Many people are not familiar with using some of the produce they get in their CSA boxes. So you have had to educate clients all down the road about local produce and seasonal produce; isn't that right?
DE ALEJANDRO: Yes. Sometimes we grow things that people can't even recognize. They've never seen it before. So even some of our varieties, speaking of the cauliflower, Romanesquo, and if you look at it, it looks like an alien.
[ LAUGHTER ]
DE ALEJANDRO: And they don't know what it is! Kohlrabi, they don't know what to do with it. So in addition to including recipes in every box, we had an active board on Facebook and on our website that shares recipes, and we try to create that community there as well.
CAVANAUGH: I guess you could think of these summer camps as a sort of extension of that education, an idea of getting them while they're young!
DE ALEJANDRO: That's exactly what we're thinking. If kids can start to see a kohlrabi when they're six or seven, they may have a fear of it, but in a childlike way when they say oh, that's weird! But starting them young to see those things, to see what it takes to grow them, and then try and eat it with other people, it takes that barrier away for them.
CAVANAUGH: What are some of the other reasons behind these summer camps?
DE ALEJANDRO: For me, one of the biggest things, the summer camp came out of the farm school. We homeschool our girls and farm school happens on the farm on Thursdays. And to see the children down there running and playing free, having activities also in which they are deeply engaged, and getting dirty, excited about planting, excited about weeding and watering. And I thought to myself when I look at my friends who have children in traditional school, that you gettut up in the morning, they've got to be in school all days, come home, and homework, and dinner, and books and bed, and I'm exhausted.
DE ALEJANDRO: So the summer camps were really a way for children to come down and have some freedom in a large amount of space, which we as people really need. And still have direction, still be able to learn biology or botany or ecology with a way that's more opening for them.
CAVANAUGH: And out in the fresh air!
DE ALEJANDRO: And out in the fresh air. To see the Hawks soaring is one of the most beautiful things.
CAVANAUGH: You have three different camp themes. Farm 101 is first. What do kids 2 there?
DE ALEJANDRO: That's the basics. We have an intern with us from high-tech high, and she said she wanted to learn to be a farmer. And I asked her if she had ever worked before and she said no. And I said okay, you're going to learn how to be a farmer. And that's basically what farm 101 is. It's everything from planting, transplanting, watering, compost. You're going to care for the chickens, they're going to harvest, they're going to see what it is -- what it takes on the most baseball level to run a farm.
CAVANAUGH: That's fascinating. So they'll not only be doing hands-on work but they'll also be studying what goes on every day at Suzie's Farm.
DE ALEJANDRO: That's exactly right. We're going to start from the ground up. What is in the soil? What makes soil? What are the soil components? What do plants need and what is located in the soil that give the plants what they need? Before it's a plant, what is it? It's I seed. What does a seed have within in it? Did you know that seeds have anatomy? They do. What's within that seed? What does the seed need to grow? When you're in kindergarten, sun, soil, water. Okay, now you're a little bit older. Maybe you're in 11th grade, what does a plant need? What are the ratios of the soil to get the plant to grow healthy and strong?
CAVANAUGH: And seeds don't always come out of a packet.
DE ALEJANDRO: No, sometimes they come from the same plant! So we're going to take that zucchini and dry the seeds, and we saved seeds. That's where the seeds come from. And the cycle just continues like that so that people understand where their food comes from.
CAVANAUGH: That's farm 101. The next theme, farm to table, involves eating food! What kind of food?
DE ALEJANDRO: Well, they're going to be eating everything that they're growing. And they'll be doing that in all of the sessions. Farm to table, they're going to get to make some fancy recipes with some chefs. But we really want to work on them is the environment and the Ecol. You're sitting down and eating that Romanesquo cauliflower. How did it get here? How many hands touched it? Did it come on a truck, a plane? Who flew the plane, how did it get here? What are all the steps in between? Did you eat it in a restaurant? Was there a prep chef who chopped it up before the cook actually made it? Then the expediter cleaned the plate and put it on your table. So we're going to grow some food, eat some food, but what are all the steps that it took before it get to your plate? Even if your mom is one of those steps, what did she have to do to get it to your plate?
CAVANAUGH: The kind of thing to stop mindless eating.
DE ALEJANDRO: Exactly! This country throws away over 40% of its food. It goes to waste. 40% of our food goes to waste! That's mindless. That is mindless eating. So let's be a little bit more conscientious and conscious about what we've got on our plate and how it got there and appreciate all of the steps, all of the people, and their life energy that it took to get that food on our plate, to nourish us, so we can do what we were put on this planet to do want
CAVANAUGH: The third camp allows dids to get to know farm animals, but not exactly the kind of animals you might think of on Old MacDonald's farm. You're talking about animals as diverse as hawks and worms.
DE ALEJANDRO: Yes. We do hope to have our mini-herd by then. If we do, we'll have two mini-sheep, two mini-goats, and two mini-cows. And we do already have pastured hens that lay eggs. But there are so many other animals that contribute to the farm. And we want to give them their proper and due respect as well. So when you walk through our fields and say why did you plant two rows of flowers? We can walk among them and say do you see the bees? Do you see this lace wing? Do you see the lady bugs? These animals are working with the farm. They're pollinating. If they don't pollinate that zucchini, that squash blossom, we don't have squash. Of the lady bugs are doing the heavy lifting against the aphids so we don't have to spray as much or at all. So we invite these animals and insects to the farm to help us grow our food. We also have owl boxes at the farm and a falconer. So what do those animals do on the farm? How do they help us? They help us by keeping the critters at bay. We have dogs on the farm. And I might take a pass with the dogs. The ground squirrels might stay away for a little bit. But when the falconer comes with the hawks, the ground squirrels stay away for longer.
CAVANAUGH: How do these themes change for kids with an age range from kindergarten to High School? Obviously they're going to be learning the same things but in different ways.
DE ALEJANDRO: The more -- the younger the child, the more basic the instruction. So as I said, if we talk about farm animals, and we talk about lady bugs, we're going to talk about the fighter soldier bugs, and we're going to talk about the other fighter soldier bugs and what each fighter soldier bug is trying to accomplish on the farm. And what are the battles, and who wins and how do they win. When you start to get more into the High School level or a little bit older, you're really going to start to talk about how does that lady bug attack that bad bug? And what do they do? What is that wasp? That wasp is laying its eggs inside of that caterpillar. And that's what kills the caterpillar. And that caterpillar, what is it doing in that tomato? How is it trying to live there? It starts to get more technical. And more multilayered the older the child gets.
CAVANAUGH: How long are each of these camps?
DE ALEJANDRO: Each camp is five days. They run Monday through Friday. And we have half day for the younger children because being out in the sun for a full day is a lot. And a full day for the older children.
CAVANAUGH: And how much does that cost?
DE ALEJANDRO: We have sibling discounts, and CSA discounts, and the prices are on our website.
CAVANAUGH: Is there a signup deadline?
DE ALEJANDRO: No. I would take people even up to the first day of camp if they want to come.
CAVANAUGH: And sometimes High School kids are difficult to get them excited or involved in summer camp. You have a special program.
DE ALEJANDRO: Yes. Oh, it's such a special program! It's a junior apprentice program. So on our farm, we have an apprentice program for people who are interested in becoming farmers. And the junior apprentices, or at least for us, what we have found is that you learn the most when you teach others what you know. So the junior apprentices for a period of time in the morning, they will be teaching the things that they don't even realize that they know already to the younger children. They will be guiding them through some projects and activities. And some of the work on the farm. In the afternoon, they get to work on more developed projects. For example, when we do farm to table, the older children may be working on things like a solar oven or solar dehydrators. And again, are that's where that farm to table aspect comes in.
CAVANAUGH: I'm wondering, what do you home kids are going to come away with after they go to these summer camps?
DE ALEJANDRO: It's the same thing that I hope everyone comes away with when they come to the farm, which is a deeper sense of self. Of going to the farm and knowing yourself a little bit better. Knowing -- you know, I tried kohlrabi, and I didn't like it. Or you know what? I thought I didn't like summer squash and I didn't realize that there are 17 different varieties. And I realize now, I do like two or more varieties. Those kinds of hands-on things. But that is just the beginning of opening themselves to more and more things. And that's what I hope that they come away with from the farm.
CAVANAUGH: To hear you talk about it, it sounds like kids attending these camps might have their eating habits or at least some of them changed for life.
DE ALEJANDRO: I hope so. The farm is a nourishing place, and we need to nourish ourselves. And the food that we give ourselves, that we love ourselves enough to give ourselves will nourish us to do whatever it is that we want to do in this life. And if that changes eating habits on just a technical kind of a base level, that's okay with me.
CAVANAUGH: Is there any chance for a family to get-together and perhaps learn this -- at least keep up with the kids?
[ LAUGHTER ]
DE ALEJANDRO: Yes, well, we have two options for families. We have farm school that we'll continue to rub over the summer. And that is basically a farm day camp. That runs on Thursdays. And we also have another very, very fun, I'm so excited about our summer sessions. They're basically family opportunities to come down to the farm, any age, where we will do low-cost or no-cost or some-cost things. A no-cost thing might be a day where you just come down, pack a picnic, and fly your kites. And a some-cost thing may be an herb walk in the field where then you'll do some tasting in the field as well. And we'll do tours over the summer as always. And summer is going to be fun in the sun for sure at Suzie's Farm.
CAVANAUGH: What is injure website?
DE ALEJANDRO: Suziesfarm.com.
CAVANAUGH: Thank you so much.
DE ALEJANDRO: It's always a privilege. Thank you, Maureen.