Words from the Woods: summer harvest

NextGen Outdoor Camp is beyond lucky to have Evergreen College grad Breanne Johnston interning with us this summer.  Breanne aspires to teach middle-school history, and is using the summer to work closely with professional teachers Lauren Richardson and Skyler Schmidt to learn how to navigate our dynamic outdoor classroom, and to design curriculum that will engage the curiosity of our 11-13 year old students.  Breanne worked closely with NextGen mentors in anticipation of our fourth week at camp.  Read about her experience below!  

Breanne Johnston, NextGen Outdoor Camp’s Outdoor Education Intern, gets students excited to learn about cold-pressed juice.

I grew up in Bremerton, and have always appreciated the natural beauty that this area has to offer.  After graduating from Evergreen State College this spring, I found myself back in Bremerton working as NextGen Outdoor Camp’s Outdoor Education Intern.  Throughout the summer, I have been blown away by the awesome ways that community members are coming together to creatively meet local needs, support NextGen’s mission, and work towards a better future. I saw so many examples of this in our fourth week of NextGen Outdoor Camp.


Paisley Gallagher of Kitsap Harvest shows NextGen Outdoor Camp students how to celebrate a “Glean” well done!

Our camp theme last week was Sustainable Harvest, and it began with an opportunity to meet and work with Paisley Gallagher of Kitsap Harvest’s “Gleaning” program.  Paisley’s program identifies fruit trees in the area that would otherwise go unharvested and brings local community members to the rescue to collect fruit and transport it to local senior homes, food banks, and free lunch programs.  After washing our hands and getting instructions from Paisley on plum-picking best practice, we got straight to work giving relief to the tree, lessening the weight on the branches that were bending low with ripe fruit. As I swooped under the branches, I felt like I was entering an oasis. The students’ laughs and squeals of delight were all I heard as they bit into juicy plums.  The branches hugged us close like a protective umbrella, and the concentrated smell of sweet ripe plums kept me present in the moment.  Filling our buckets full to the brim provided all the exhilaration of an Easter egg hunt.  In the end, NextGen students collected 150 pounds of plums from one and a half plum trees! Each of us got to take a few plums home to share with our families while the rest was donated to Bremerton’s free summer lunch program.  It was amazing to see how much fun we all had while providing for our larger community.

NextGen students devised some creative ways to make sure ripe plums made it into their buckets (and pockets).
Urban gardener Jean Schanen shows a NextGen student how to loosen the roots of a brassica before planting.

On Thursday morning, we pulled up to Jean Schanen’s Start Now Urban Garden. The life and color of Jean’s yard breaks up the monotony of the brown mid-summer lawns that Bremerton usually offers. As we took a tour through Jean’s garden, we learned about how she and her husband came to Bremerton to retire and started an urban farm instead. For many years, Jean’s garden produced enough fruits and veggies to sustain her family, and even some extra to sell at the farmers market. It was special to learn some gardening tips from a seasoned plant-grower!  NextGen students split into teams to work on three different projects: harvesting comfrey to provide the compost with rich nutrients, planting a garden bed with winter crops, and cleaning up an area next to the sidewalk (my team).

NextGen Outdoor Camp students hard at work on their projects at Start Now Urban Garden.

Pulling weeds is a good way for middle-school students to get out some pent up energy. There were a couple students on my team who didn’t want to touch the weeds or dirt at first. These students set about important supervisory tasks: running errands, asking Jean clarifying questions, and pushing our full wheelbarrows of pulled weeds to the compost.  But as time went on, I saw these same students become less intimidated by the idea of getting their hands dirty, and by the end we were all pulling weeds together! It is truly amazing to see the growth of students in such a short period of time and it illustrates to me how we all have different areas of discomfort. Frequently that discomfort seems to stem from our fear of stepping into a new experience. The magic of transformation happens as we explore things that seem unknown.

NextGen Outdoor Camp students enjoyed making their cold-pressed juice with Juice DriveThru and Java business owner Wesley Blackwell.
Students experiment with fruit and vegetable combinations in the Juice DriveThru and Java kitchen.

After we said good-bye to Jean, we went to Juice DriveThru and Java on 6th street for a surprise treat for the students. Business owner Wesley Blackwell talked to the NextGen students about how he came to open a fresh-pressed juice and coffee stand, and about how he was compelled to provide his community a healthier drive-thru option.The students were granted backstage access to Wesley’s juicing laboratory and after a quick demo about how to safely feed fruits and vegetables into the juicer, our students were lucky enough to put on gloves and invent their own juice flavors! It felt like a merry-go-round as students went in a circle around the island, choosing what juice they wanted to try, making stellar combinations of the carrots, cucumbers, apples, and oranges that Wesley sliced for us. After almost an hour of taste tests and experiments, NextGen students left with a new perspective on the numerous ways local business owners are identifying and meeting the needs of our community. A few students even asked Wesley if he was hiring!  He suggested they check back in with him a few years down the road.  With stomachs full of yummy juice we thanked Wesley for the lesson and headed out.

The Steege-Jackson family gave us a tour of Around the Table Farm, a horse-powered flower, berry, and vegetable farm in Poulsbo.

Our weeks at NextGen Outdoor Camp are so packed with one-of-a-kind activities that it is impossible to talk about them all. Other highlights from our sustainable food and agriculture week include our trip to Around the Table Farm in Poulsbo (and getting a chance to meet the farm dog, cat, and working horse!), and our tour of the newly opened Kitsap Community Food Co-op. I am so proud of our students and the work that they are doing to overcome their fears, try new things, build relationships, and engage with the work that our community is doing. I know that each of our students have an amazing path ahead of them and that they are being shaped by the opportunities that we have been a part of this summer.

Yours truly,
Breanne the Barnacle