Healthy and Sustainable Living at Camp

Alina Bitel
Written by
for Camps USA
Healthy and Sustainable Living at Camp

Nature has given a lot to summer camps. Without nature, we could not hike through the woods, swim in the lake, ride horses or build a bonfire on the beach. As a director, you can give back to nature by establishing patterns of healthy and sustainable living at your camp. No matter what type of program you run, going green will help the planet, set a good example for campers and staff, and make everyone’s experience more rewarding.

When preparing for camp, you and your team face a lot of decisions. What food will the cafeteria serve? Where will you buy craft supplies, equipment and furniture? Where will you house the kids? Fortunately, for nearly every decision you make, you can find environmentally-friendly options.

Since campers come from diverse cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds, they may each be accustomed to eating different kinds of foods. Education on healthy eating and a little creativity in the kitchen can ensure that everyone feels satisfied with the menu options. Even small changes can make a big difference. For example, replace French fries with seasoned vegetables and serve eggs and bacon instead of donuts for breakfast. Some kids may not like the choices offered, but staff can gently remind them that they came to summer camp to try new experiences. If they’re willing to attempt horseback riding or rock climbing for the first time, why not try roasted zucchini or grilled fish?

Responsible food choices can also teach children valuable lessons about healthy living. Offer organic, vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free and kosher options at mealtimes. If you buy grass-fed beef, local produce, fair trade coffee and other sustainable goods, consider putting up a sign that explains the origins of these foods.

In addition, you can find numerous essential items made out of recycled materials. Some companies make bunk beds, chairs and tables out of reclaimed wood, also a nice way to give the cabins a rustic look. Purchase cafeteria napkins, computer paper and notebooks that use recycled paper. With the aid of modern technology, you could even set a goal to make the camp completely paperless.

Introducing large-scale changes will have a positive impact on the environment as well. Consider switching to wind or solar power for electricity and heat. If your camp must rent or borrow property, such as a high school, university or conference center, call the owner and ask what green policies they have in place and how your group can cooperate.

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Healthy and sustainable living begins with you and your team, but campers can learn how to care for the planet as well. Many camps enforce a “no technology” rule, a ban on all smartphones, iPods and video games while kids remain at camp. By paying attention to the world outside rather than to a screen, children will learn to appreciate nature.

Implement a recycling program that gets everyone involved in keeping the campus clean. You could even hold a contest to reward the cabin that recycles the most. Turn trash into treasure by reusing old cups, bottles, macaroni noodles or plastic bags for crafts. Encourage kids and staff to bring refillable thermoses rather than plastic water bottles.

Outdoor camps offer plenty of opportunities to educate kids about sustainable living. As a special project, set up a garden where campers can plant seeds and grow some of their own food. Get in touch with a local farm and find out if your group can help care for the animals. If your camp hosts optional classes or activity times, make sure to offer health and fitness classes.

Even if your camp is located in an urban area, you can still make good ecological decisions. For the next field trip, choose a destination within walking distance rather than take a bus. Lead campers in volunteering for community service projects, such as planting trees or cleaning up the park.

No matter the size or type of your camp, sustainable living will leave everyone feeling happier, healthier and more eco-friendly.

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