Eden Village West: A farm-to-table overnight camp experience

In 2010, Vivian and Yoni Stadlin received the funding to make their dream – a Jewish sleepaway camp focused on environmental sustainability – a reality. That year, Eden Village Camp was one of five new camps established through the Foundation for Jewish Camp’s Specialty Camp Incubator Project. The camp, located in Putnam Valley, NY, about an hour’s drive north of Manhattan, also received financial support from UJA-Federation of New York.

After many years of running a successful camp in New York, the Stadlin’s were once again the recipients of the incubator’s funding, and in 2018, they opened Eden Village West in Northern California.

Eden Village West is located on the campus of Rio Lindo Academy, a boarding school outside of Healdsburg, CA, about 70 miles north of San Francisco. The 350-acre campus sits along the Russian River and is the perfect setting for this farm-to-table co-ed overnight camp for ages 8 to 16.

Many camps offer outdoor activities or have farming and animals as part of their recreational opportunities, but EVW’s primary mission is to connect kids to the natural world.

“For kids to have a connection, an appreciation for nature and the natural world and the food that they eat – and also we want those activities to facilitate a connection with Judaism,” says Zach Friedman, EVW’s assistant camp director. “And, in turn, we want Judaism to facilitate a connection, an appreciation and care for the natural world. That’s what our program is built upon.”

On the 1-acre farm, they grow vegetables, herbs and flowers. “We get to decorate lots of spaces with the flowers that we grow,” says Zach. The children run the farm in the summer and do everything from planting to harvesting and setting up drip irrigation. The children also tend to the animals, which include collecting eggs from the chickens and bringing the goats to pasture.

A typical day at camp starts with the kids having morning gratitude time and saying Modeh Ani, a traditional morning prayer. Then the kids can pick from several options from singing, dream sharing, waking up the animals, or mikvah in the Russian River. After breakfast are more activities centered around “village life.”

In the afternoon is “schmooze” time where kids can choose from swimming, boating, music, circus arts, soccer, Frisbee, making tea in the apothecary, relaxing in the art room or visiting with friends. It’s their time to structure.

Dinner time is special as it features food that the children harvested along with treats the campers made in culinary arts.

“There’s a deeper appreciation for where their food comes from, a greater understanding and real ownership over the food that they eat but also a greater comfort level with eating different types of food,” says Zach.  “It’s been widely studied that when kids are involved in growing and cooking their food, they’re going to eat more things, and they’re going to eat healthier.”

After dinner, evening activities vary from small-group campfires to all-camp games. Then the counselors facilitate a bedtime ritual with each bunk.

“We end every day with the campers running reflection,” says Zach. “Sharing their highs and lows from the day what they’re looking forward to the next day.”

Although no one can see ahead to what the summer will bring with the COVID-19 virus, Zach says that they are optimistic about being able to hold camp and have already had many families sign up. Camp enrollment increased from 87 campers their first year to 182 in 2019, so campers are excited to return.

“I think most kids are happy to be on the farm and are happy to get dirty,” says Zach. “There’s an array of activities they have to choose from; they don’t do anything that they don’t want to – which is nice.”

Based on the options available at Eden Village West, one would imagine there isn’t anything a kid wouldn’t want to do!

For more information, contact 510-560-5610 or visit edenvillagewest.org.


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