It’s hard to know where to start when describing summer camp on Tikkun Farm in Mt. Healthy. At first glance, it’s a place for city kids to meet an alpaca, feed chickens, and harvest vegetables from the garden. But then you see children of all ages doing yoga, hear the sound of drumming coming from the barn, smell a curry dish cooking, feel the soft fleece of an alpaca, and watch a Bhutanese refugee woman spin it into yarn. And you’ve only been there for a couple of hours!
Farm Camp is the dream of Mary Laymon, a Lutheran pastor who owns Tikkun Farm with her husband, Greg York. They are turning land that used to be a junkyard for old cars into a place of healing, restoration, and repair.
You can see how much fun the campers have doing yoga, drumming, and cooking. But there’s a reason Mary has chosen these activities. Research shows they help build resilience in children who have high Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) scores. “We know that things like drumming, art, theater, time with animals, and yoga help build resilience, help re-regulate their brains,” Mary said.
Although Farm Camp isn’t promoted as just for children who’ve experienced ACE, Mary assumes that most kids who attend “carry some sort of hard story with them.” Not every camper, she says. “But all the things we do are enriching and meaningful, in homes where you’re neglected and in homes where you’re deeply cherished. They are good things for all of us to practice.”
“Repairing community is about … how do we bring populations of people together who normally are afraid of each other and help them get to know each other?” Mary explained. “That’s part of why we bring refugee kids and African American kids and white kids together for camp, because we want them to spend the whole week doing things together.”
Every Wednesday, Bhutanese refugee moms and grandmothers come to camp. Some teach campers to cook dishes from their culture. While the kids learn about spices or how to chop veggies, the women get to practice their English. Others teach how alpaca fleece is processed, spun into yarn, and woven into cloth. Each woman explains what she’s doing (again, practicing English!) while operating a swing picker, carder, spinning wheel, and weaving loom.
The Bhutanese refugees live in Mt. Healthy, but language and cultural barriers can be isolating. Mary is thrilled to see how Farm Camp is changing this! The Mt. Healthy kids attending camp get to know and respect the women teaching them to cook and work with alpaca fiber. “They learned that they are not just people who don’t speak our language,” Mary said. “But they are people who have something to teach me.” And the refugee women get to know the children they see in the neighborhood. Instead of being afraid of them, they now think, ”these are my campers.“
Mary says that the word Tikkun means repair. “When I prayed as a pastor about what to call the farm, that was the word I heard,” she said. “And I heard God saying to me, ‘repair buildings and then I will send people whose lives need to be repaired.’ And every summer, one of our buildings has been in better repair so we could use it for programming.”
It takes a village
Mary brings together a diverse group of people and organizations to make Farm Camp happen. Funding comes from Trinity Lutheran Church in Mt. Healthy, Christ Church Cathedral in Cincinnati, the Andrew Jergens Foundation, and private donations. Zone 231, part of the Mt. Healthy Alliance, brings children and staff from its summer program to camp. La Soupe and the Freestore Foodbank donate food for cooking classes. Mt. Holyoke College in Massachusetts sent summer interns to work at the camp.
Above all, Farm Camp relies on volunteers (102 for this summer!). “We do a lot with a little bit of money because we have so many volunteers,” Mary said. High school students are camp counselors. Adults teach cooking, art, creative writing, and more. Others do whatever is needed, whether it’s helping a six year old chop an onion or washing out water bottles.
Expanding the program
Mary wants kids to experience resilience-building activities for more than just a week or two during the summer. In September, she hopes to offer an afterschool program for grades one through twelve. This will take volunteers, of course! She’s looking for people to teach or assist with cooking, creative writing, theater, and art, help with homework, and provide other support.
Helping the community to THRIVE!
We set out to share the story of summer camp, but there’s so much more to tell about the healing, restoring, and repairing that Tikkun Farm brings to the community of Mt. Healthy. If you’re interested in getting involved, contact Mary Laymon at 215-630-1091 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tikkun Farm’s WeTHRIVE! connection: Mary Laymon serves on the Mt. Healthy WeTHRIVE! team. Tikkun Farm is the fiduciary partner for the city’s Interact for Health grant.