The way most people around here find out about Sprout Creek Farm is by seeing their artisan cheeses for sale in gourmet food shops and greenmarkets. If they’re lucky, they actually get to try them, and find out what it’s like to eat a cheese that tastes of whatever wildflowers, herbs and grasses the cows or goats were munching as they ambled about the fields. At this 200-acre working farm in the town of LaGrange in Dutchess County, they do cheesemaking the way people did it back in the Old Country in the centuries before agribusiness took over our food supply.
What many people don’t realize is that the pungent Ouray or Eden, Toussaint or Madeleine that they just sampled may have been made by schoolchildren on a field trip, or by young summer campers – or increasingly these days, by adults visiting for a sort of bucolic retreat from the frenzied pace and stress of high-tech modern life. What you also probably won’t realize – either by surfing the website at www.sproutcreekfarm.org or judging by the get-up of that tough-looking middle-aged lady in overalls tooling around on a tractor – is that, in the old European tradition of abbeys and monasteries becoming known for their on-site dairies, bakeries, wineries or breweries, Sprout Creek is run by a religious order: the Sisters of the Sacred Heart.
The facility is described as “a center for education, farming, community-building and spiritual growth…a place of work, of peace, intellectual inquiry and experiential learning.” But commendably, they don’t get all in your face with what kind of “spiritual growth” the plainclothes nuns want visitors to experience. Campers at Sprout Creek learn about sustainable agriculture and working cooperatively through hands-on participation in farm chores. They get in tune with the seasons and how they affect food production, both in the garden and in the life cycles of livestock. One young woman I know who started out as a regular Sprout Creek camper and then went on to become a counselor helped a sheep give birth. She was allowed to name the lamb, who ever afterward came running at her call. It’s not the sort of experience that most of us get anywhere – let alone on the outskirts of Poughkeepsie.
Many different modules are offered, of varying lengths, for immersion in Sprout Creek Farm’s rural lifestyle. In summer, there are a weeklong day camp program for kids aged 6 to 11; weeklong sleepover programs for girls aged 10 to 12; one-week service-learning programs for girls aged 13 and 14, called Project Harvest; a weeklong Farm and Wilderness program for boys aged 12 to 14; a weeklong hands-on environmental program for 15- and 16-year-olds; and Institute for Environmental and Social Awareness seminars for high schoolers. There are other day, overnight and weekend programs offered year-round for various age groups, including Parent/Child Weekends.
Educational programs for youth have been going on at Sprout Creek since its founding in 1982, but in recent years the Farm has been ramping up its activities for grownup “campers.” There’s an ongoing series of Adult Saturday Programs, like a fall workshop in canning, pickling and other food preservation techniques and an early spring event that covers garden-planning, seed-starting and feeding newborn kids (of the goat variety).
Coming up next weekend, January 12 through 15, Sprout Creek will be unveiling a truly new concept, for women who need a getaway but can’t picture themselves lounging around a spa with a mud pack on their face: “Mommy Goes to Camp.” Described as a “special blend of activity and reflection,” the three-day farm experience will include such hands-on farm activities as milking and feeding the animals, collecting chicken and duck eggs, cooking meals together with a simpatico group of women and generally getting rejuvenated and energized. As a bonus, all participants receive a half-pound wedge of one of Sprout Creek Farm’s cheeses at the end of the program.
The Mommy Goes to Camp program runs from Thursday evening until Sunday at noon, and the fee is $300. Space is first-come, first-served, so make your reservation now at (845) 485-8438, or download your application form at https://sproutcreekfarm.org/AdultSatProgs2011.pdf. Sprout Creek Farm is located at 34 Lauer Road in LaGrange, just southeast of Poughkeepsie –but a world away from its urban pace.