Friday, July 17, 2015

A Climate Camp overnight in South Bend

Though based in Indianapolis, I spend time all over the state of Indiana in my capacity as executive director of Earth Charter Indiana. These travels take me to schools, businesses, parks and events that inspire me in my work to educate and empower when it comes to climate change and climate solutions.

This work has resulted in the formation of our youth program, Youth Power Indiana.

I visit South Bend area frequently and why not? It's my home town, born and raised and graduated high school, and where my siblings and mother still live. It's also replete with commitment to sustainability and climate action.

Recently, my friend Charlotte Wolfe, a farmer who runs Prairie Winds Nature Farm, thought it would be a good idea to hold a Climate Camp on her farm just south of South Bend in Lakeville. Charlotte had heard about the Climate Camps we hold in Indianapolis area at places like Peace Learning Center at Eagle Creek Park, White Pine Wilderness Academy, and next month, Paramount School of Excellence. I was thrilled when she asked me, because I knew this would be my chance to introduce the amazing youth from central Indiana to the amazing youth of northern Indiana.

The two day experience exceeded my expectations — and believe me, being the persistently optimistic person that I am, I had high expectations!

Charlotte and I designed a schedule, but we also decided to leave room for the youth to shape the event as they saw fit. It unfolded effortlessly. As I often do, I'll let the photos do the talking here, but please, if you are interested in hosting a Climate Camp event, please contact me, I'd love to help out.

Here's the Climate Camp crew, with me in back; adults in the front are Charlotte Wolfe and Kathy Sipple.
Charlotte's Prairie Winds Nature Farm is beautiful, and chockfull of sustainable practices.
Here, Charlotte is talking with Grace (left) while Tomas looks on. Grace has long been involved with Prairie Winds. Currently she is a summer camp counselor for Prairie Winds' summer camps.
The prairie the farm is named for with the frog- and other creature-filled pond/swamp in the background.
Campers were greeted with this charming sign.
Our first meeting, discussing the agenda for the camp.
Beth agreed to be our scribe as we scheduled our first day's activities.
We decided to occupy Charlotte's garage for our presentation needs. Here,  17 year old Iris does her Climate Change 101 presentation for the assembled.
Julia, right, shows off the publication of her article about Good Shepherd Montessori's academy conference on food. 
Maddie was trained by the Climate Reality Project in Cedar Rapids in May, officially beginning her path as a climate educator. Here she is talking about how quickly the Arctic is melting, destabilizing the climate.
Iris was also trained by the Climate Reality in May. Here she is showing off the book, Overshoot, about the impact humanity has on the planet.
After the presentations, campers moved outside for various activities., including bee-keeping.Charlotte, left, helped these campers find the queen.
Madison and Iris took a dip in the pond.
Other Climate Campers decided to ride horses.
It was an enthralling day thus far, a nice mixture of youth-led science and civics initiatives, along with a discussion of Julia's professional clip as a journalist (Farm Indiana). Next, the campers needed to plan dinner so we did a little harvesting from Prairie Winds, while incorporating the produce we had brought with us from Indy Urban Acres.

The campers eyed the ingredients and decided what to fix. I'll let the photos do the talking here.

We set up three tents for the campers — two for the girls, one for the guys.

The next day, we began with a good breakfast of locally sourced ingredients cooked over a fire — including fresh eggs from Prairie Winds' chickens and fresh fruit on the pancakes.

Then, we enjoyed more youth presentations on issues of concern. For example, Julia showed her short documentary on the gender of food, a subject that beguiled the climate campers. What's gender have to do with food? Julia's brilliant documentary showed us how.

Other youth showed presentations they'd planned on sharing, while other youth stood up to talk who hadn't planned on presenting.

Here, Tomas is talking about farmworker justice. 
And Grace tells the story of the multi-year process of getting an ordinance passed in South Bend to allow backyard chickens.
By now, we knew we were in the presence of seasoned presenters and activists, despite their ostensible youth. Grace was a particularly inspiring speaker as she was involved in this South Bend policy change for years — persisting through numerous roadblocks. Now, South Bend has lots of chicken coops, and thus plenty of fresh eggs.

Climate Campers watched a video about a victory in Eugene, Oregon, where young people inspired the city council to pass a Climate Recovery Act for the entire city. Afterward, campers talked about the feasibility of a similar action in South Bend and beyond.

Kathy Sipple interviews Matthew for her podcast. The campers gathered round her computer/phone to talk about the impact of the two day camp.
One last walk through the prairie before returning home.
You can listen to Kathy's podcast here. The experience inspired the campers to create their own podcast. More on that later.

For me, this experience was exhilarating and relaxing at the same time. I had been consumed with logistics regarding this camp and next week's weeklong camp at the Peace Learning Center. But by the time I got to Prairie Winds and experienced the beatific surroundings of free range chickens, turkeys, sheep, goats and horses, I began to unwind and breathe and simply enjoy myself.

I've been on the job nearly two years now, and honestly, sometimes, it feels like I'm running in place. At the highest levels of leadership in Indiana there is a stubborn opposition to facing the reality of fossil fuel pollution and what it is doing to the planet — and thus to these young people's futures.

These young people get it; in fact, most young people do. The challenge is motivating them into doing something about it.

Youth often feel they don't have a voice in the matter. Here, at Climate Camp, they often led the discussion. I can't predict the outcome, but I do know these kids were impassioned, cooperative, irreverent and goofy.

They screamed in delight in the night and kept me awake, but I lay in my single person tent and just smiled. This is what an overnight camp is about. Making up ghost stories, taking a late night hike with your new friends, and scaring yourself into running back to your tent.

All too early that second morning, the rooster crowed the arrival of the sunrise. I was the first one up, touring the farm, eying the livestock, ogling the life, touring the swamp and feeding the mosquitoes. I didn't get much sleep, but was refreshed with the sense of possibility.

I'll leave you with a few additional photos for your viewing pleasure.


  1. Thanks for a wonderful writeup! I'm hoping we can host more Climate Camps in the future. Charlotte

  2. Well done! As Naomi Klein says, "It will take all of us to change everything." Sounds like youth are ready to be part of the change. Their involvement and leadership is much needed.

  3. Oh! its look so great, thank you for sharing your climate camp experience with us. Yes, I am interested in the climate camp. What beautiful clicks! thanks for giving such awesome clicks. I hope we can host climate camps in the future. It will help those who want to plan for climate camp. I hope you can share more posts like these interesting topics.You can go here for more about my camp.


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