Easter and Passover might be early this year, but bringing out the eggs and afikomen means that that summer's coming soon. Which means, parents, that now's the time to make plans for your kids' school's-out activities. For adults, workshops and events revolving around thinking, writing, making, cooking, and growing food are more popular than ever, so it's no surprise that food- and farming-themed kids' camps are springing up throughout the Bay Area. Some are one-day excursions, others week-long adventures, but all involve a lively, hands-on, and, we hope, deliciously messy foray into real farm-to-table, dirt-to-dining discoveries. (Plus, petting goats!)
Take My Word for It, which teaches a variety of writing programs for kids, is presenting half-day, week-long versions of Peanut Butter and the Pen, its popular food-writing course for 8 to 12 year olds, at three locations this summer. June 18 thru June 22, the camp will be in residence at 18 Reasons in San Francisco's Mission District. The theme? Fairytales reimagined, and come to think of it, there's a lot of eating in all those bedtime stories, from the big bad wolf dining on grandmother to Snow White and the poisoned apple. Take My Word for It will also be offering more general food-writing camps for kids at the Piedmont Recreation Center in Oakland (June 18-22) as well as at Seesaw in Hayes Valley.
The Piedmont Recreation Center also offers three hands-on cooking classes. 5 to 6 year olds can get started at Beginning Cooking Camp, where they'll learn basic skills--and some eating etiquette--with instructor Jane Backus. At Little Spoons Cafe (8-12 year olds), kids work with Bauman College-trained chef Eric Pomert to make family-pleasing recipes like Indian carrot cake muffins, bang bang chicken, hazelnut chocolate macaroons, and yes, Mom's favorite, crunchy kale chips. Meanwhile, Cre8tive Design (9-11 year olds) takes cooking and sewing, those old home-ec staples, into the 21st century by combining fashion design with culinary creation in a Project-Runway-meets-Top-Chef explosion of teamwork, baking, and outfit-making. You don't have to live in Piedmont to attend, although residents do get a slightly reduced price. (Download the online catalog for dates, times, prices, and registration information.)
Your kids can take Michael Pollan's dictum to "eat...mostly plants" to heart at 18 Reasons' All Plant Parts Gardening and Cooking Camp at Sanchez School this summer. The four-day, half-day program for 9 to 12 year olds teaches basic botany by way of the garden and kitchen, as kids learn to identify, taste, and cook all the edible parts of many different plants, making easy dishes like trail mix, popcorn, fava-bean hummus, and whole-grain flatbreads.
Want your third-grader to be a bona fide San Francisco foodie? Sign him or her up for SF Foodies at the JCC, a four-day session filled with field trips to City hot spots and food trucks, followed by recipe exploration in the kitchen. The JCC has seven other cooking camps this summer, ranging from Pizzas Around the World and Famous Chefs to Farm to Table (did you know the JCC has a rooftop garden?) and, for aspiring Harold McGees and Nathan Myhrvolds, Food Science. At the Marin JCC, the week-long cooking day camps include Junior Chefs (basic techniques plus a trip to the farmers' market) for grades 1-4, and Cake Capades (cake decorating) and Master Chefs (international recipes and a "friendly competition") for grades 4-6.
Hidden Villa, a non-profit educational farm, ranch, and wilderness area in Los Altos offers a variety of sleepaway and day camp options. Each camp includes gardening and taking care of the farm animals, plus hiking, swimming, art projects, storytelling, and more (like ice-cream making and blackberry picking), with a mandate towards promoting social justice, a healthy environment, and a sustainable future.
The Junior Farmers programs at Slide Ranch in Muir Beach are already sold out (although you can ask to be put on the waiting list), but there's still room in their other farm, livestock, and garden-based day camps. According to their website, their camps include "milking goats, feeding and collecting eggs from chickens, carding and spinning wool from our sheep, creating nature-based crafts, preparing compost, planting seeds, and harvesting and cooking from our organic garden." Most of the camps are half days for children 5-12 years old; there's also a Junior Camp Counselor Program for teens 13-18 years old.
The Marin YMCA has two hands-on, week-long cooking classes, including La Petite Chef (Aug 6-10, 9am-4pm), teaching basic skills for children in grades K-2, and Global Eats (June 18-22, 9am-4pm), which promises fun with international recipes for 3rd through 5th graders. Both classes include time out of the kitchen for hikes, nature walks, and swimming.
DGES Educational Services, which operates in conjunction with Devil's Gulch Ranch in Nicasio (known particularly for its tasty rabbit) is partnering with the Marin Y to offer seven week-long DGES day camp sessions where campers participate in farm chores, livestock care, and gardening on a working ranch, followed by lots of nature exploration in nearby Samuel P. Taylor State Park along with traditional skill-building, including pottery, rope-making, basket-weaving, jewelry making with horns and bones, drum making, and hide tanning.
Windrush Farm in Petaluma has nine four-day day-camp sessions this summer for kids 7 to 12. At the farm, kids get busy in the garden, gather eggs from the chickens, tend the goats, cows, and llamas, create wool crafts, splash in the pond, and make pizza in the wood-burning outdoor oven.
Back in my teen years, I would have loved the chance to go to a very personalized (only 6 students per session, grouped by grades 5-7 or 8-10) summer cooking school like the one offered by Mediterranean chef Adrianna Dinihanian at her Pine Point Cooking School in Sausalito. Instead, I got my first job making pasta primavera and stuffing cherry tomatoes at a fancy little gourmet take-out shop downtown. It was a lot of chopping onions, then and now, but why not have your kids learn to make what you'd love to eat, without sending them straight into the grubby, repetitive reality that is actual paid kitchen work? The cooking sessions, which include a farmers' market trip to San Francisco, change seasonally, but might include risotto, savory galettes, Mediterranean-inspired dips and spreads, gelatos, cookies, and lots more.