By Julia McKenna
In Lakeville, Indiana, hidden behind a buzzing highway, past an old grey pencil factory and an empty Speedway gas station, settled in between dusty corn farms, and roads filled with potholes, sits Prairie Winds Nature Farm. A startling change in the monotone scenery on Osborne Road, Prairie Winds Nature Farm is eighty-five acres of restored wetlands and woods, formerly an expansive corn and soybean field, that now functions as a learning farm for children. Here, green pastures are dotted with animals, the red barn smells of hay and earth, and the blue pond trickles back into endless acres of woods, which wind lazily into golden yellow fields of prairie. The garden is overflowing with nearly everything you could imagine, and they have a rope swing in the hayloft. Everything from the beehives to the chicken coop is as serene and natural as you can get.
Charlotte and Robert Wolfe own and operate this farm, and have dedicated their lives to educating people about nature, food, sustainability, and so much more. I was fortunate enough to attend a school where we visited this farm on a weekly basis, and so from a very young age, I was introduced to a whole different kind of learning. As I got older, I started to work as a counselor for the farm’s summer camp, eager to continue Charlotte and Robert’s teachings. I loved the time I spent there, learning how to garden, tend to livestock, identify native species, and connect with the earth. I reveled in each opportunity to get to be in this beautiful space.
This summer, I came across a chance for me to be a student at the farm again, going to a Climate Camp at Prairie Winds Farm. I was quick to sign up, though I had never been to a Climate Camp before, and was eager to attend. Jim Poyser, a climate change activist with an amazing sense of humor, and a love of working with kids, decided to host his annual teen climate camp at Charlotte’s farm. Through past work at my school, Jim and I were already acquainted, and I was able to help recruit other kids to come along with me.
Though I had a very vague idea about what climate camp would entail, in the middle of July, I packed my bag for camping, and set out for the farm. Upon my arrival early that morning, I was met with a circle of smiling faces, some familiar and some new, resting crosslegged in a patch of trees. What followed was to be my favorite camp I have ever attended.
Being in such a serene place, where I felt almost obligated to soak up the world around me was the best platform for a climate camp anyone could ask for. There, in our musty substitute classroom comprised of wooden benches, a projector, and a pull down white screen, my mind wandered off into a new world where my ideas were important, and fixing the world didn’t feel as daunting as it should.
The afternoon was spent listening to engaging presentations about climate change, given by fellow teenagers from the Indianapolis area. Their presentations really focused on the fact that if no steps are taken soon to stop polluting the earth, weather will become far more dramatic, the polar ice caps will continue to melt, causing ocean levels to rise, and floods to occur. Animal species will be wiped out, the average temperature will rise, and our planetary ecosystems will be left in disarray. These presentations really opened my eyes to how much of a problem we really do have at hand.
My passion to create change started to burn even more furiously than I had felt in the past. A dreaded thought came into my mind; what if the world comes to a state of such disarray, that kids won’t be able to have places like this farm? What if it already has? What if no one was ever able to experience the exuberance I feel when I am at Charlotte’s farm? We discussed politicians, and the role they have, but mainly haven’t, been taking in this extremely important issue. We talked about what kids can do to make a difference: writing letters to congressmen and women, making every day life more sustainable, and encouraging others to take action. Thoughts started swarming in my head, right there, in that two car garage, I decided that this was the most important dilemma the future is to face.
We then gave a tour around the farm, showing them the barn, the woods, the prairie, all the beautiful assets this farm has to offer. After handling the baby goats and hiking out to the rope swing, we spent time horseback riding, hiking, and swimming in the pond. It is always important for those who are working as a team to first get to know each other at a personal level, and by touring the farm, we also got to experience what a natural, sustainable place feels like. After more discussions, we took to the gardens, baskets in hand, ready to create an entirely local, organic dinner. Supper was delicious, consisting of vegetable and beef stew, cucumber salad, a berry crisp, fried potatoes, and homemade bread. Our campfire became the space where we listened to each other’s stories, eager to hear how each person became involved in sustainability. Stories eventually drifted into dreams, as we headed to our tents for bed.
The next morning, as the sun began to drip yellow through the trees, we ate a local, organic breakfast, the perfect way to start our second -and last- day of climate camp. We spent the morning watching videos, as the weather didn’t permit much outdoor time.
My personal favorite was a video documenting the process of getting the very first Climate Change Recovery Ordinance passed in Eugene, Oregon. A smile slid across my face as I realized: the people who had this ordinance passed were children. Kids just like me, in a town just like mine. Suddenly, I found myself enthralled with the idea of creating the same type of ordinance in my hometown, South Bend, Indiana. I knew it would never be easy, as there are always plenty of roadblocks in any attempt to pass a new law, but I floated the idea to Mr. Poyser anyway. He grabbed on just as quickly as I had formed the plan. To be clear, this has not happened yet, but like any good idea, is still in the making. My friends were just as enthusiastic as I was, and a meeting is set to take place this fall with any community members who want to get the ball rolling.
After what felt like my personal epiphany, we were joined by another friend of ours, Kathy Sipple, who runs her own podcast. We spent a half hour recording a segment for her, talking about Prairie Winds Farm, and all the things that people are doing - including us - to preserve the beautiful spaces we still have left, and to ensure that they are still there in years to come.
My climate change activism didn’t exactly start there, it didn’t end there either, but it certainly has filled me with a new determination to make our future better. It left me pouring over websites, hastily writing emails, and submitting this article. It was there, on the golden, pristine farm, that I realized that this IS my future, but it’s us who has to shape it. The pencil factory seemed to flutter past as my new sense of hope blurred out the rest of the ride.
For more on this Climate Camp experience, go here.