by Elizabeth Levy Malis
“Hello Muddah. Hello Faddah. Here I am at Camp … .” So goes the start of a typical letter written home from sleepaway camp — immortalized in song by comedian Alan Sherman. But Eden Village, located in Putnam Valley, N.Y., approximately an hour north of New York City, is no typical overnight camp. It exists in an allorganic environment.
“We don’t just preach going green, we live it. We are it. It’s what we are doing,” says Vivian Lehrer, who founded the camp with her husband, Yoni Stadlin.
Picture the setting: a working, organic farm that hosts summer camp. “It’s the only
Jewish farm camp,” says Lehrer. “The heart center of the camp is organic food from our
big organic farm.”
Although it offers many elements of a traditional camp, food is not one of them.
“There’s no bug juice or standard camp fare here,” says Lehrer. “We don’t buy premade food. Our camp food comes from our organic farm or local organic farms.
All-organic food is a major piece of living out our values.”
Such values embrace a holistic view. Eden Village Camp offers a nature-based, earthfriendly, environmentally conscious, sustainable- living summer experience for boys and girls from third to 11th grade.
Here, campers can harvest, thresh, winnow and grind wheat to bake challah for Sabbath.
They make fresh homegrown pesto from a bike-powered blender and homemade pita from a clay oven. Culinary arts, beekeeping, caring for sheep and working with wool, pickling and preserving and maintaining a compost pile make up summer memories.
“It’s a new kind of summer camp [but] also very ancient in other ways. We are learning
from the earth,” says Lehrer. “We focus on grassroots, do-it-yourself activities.”
And opportunities to do it yourself abound.
Campers make hats and water bottles from wool from the sheep at the farm. Children tap nature to build shelters and forts during overnight hikes. ?ey learn to make proper fires during campouts. They carve spoons from wood. Budding musicians can take guitar
or drum lessons.
“Campers milk goats and collect eggs from our chickens,” says Lehrer. “?ey munch on
cherry tomatoes and raspberries from their bunk-side snack garden, which we call nature’s
A look at the camp’s website, edenvillagecamp. org, offers a complete view of all that
Eden Village offers. “A big theme at camp is, it’s a place to grow,” says Stadlin.
Every camper who comes to Eden Village learns the camp cheer. “We have a slogan that
goes: ‘Try new things! Try new things!’ ” says Lehrer.
Elements of tried-and-true camping exist, too. Hiking, swimming, canoeing, kayaking,
campfires, singing, art, music, drama, storytelling, team building, friendships and more
complete the camp experience.
“It’s all the goodness of traditional camp infused with the mission of living and practicing sustainable, organic living,” says Lehrer.
“We have a powerful and simple formula,” she adds. “In addition to having fun — the
bedrock of the camp experience — we also want it to be meaningful. Today’s kids hunger
for the self-esteem that comes along with milking the goat and turning the milk into
ice cream, yogurt and cheese.”
Plus, there’s a spiritual side.
“We are a nature-based Jewish community.
We attract campers from Modern Orthodox to secular and so much in between,” says
Lehrer, who describes the camp’s mission as “rooted in the Jewish vision of creating a
more environmentally sustainable, socially just and spiritually connected world.”
Eden Village Camp opened in 2010. During its inaugural summer, 134 “pioneer”
campers signed on. In 2011, enrollment nearly doubled with 250 campers. Last summer, 300 campers adjourned.
Eliyahu Kheel, 15, of Baltimore, has attended Eden Village Camp since it began.
“He was the first camper signed up, even though the camp had yet to open,” says his
mother, Treine Kheel. “At 12, he went for his first summer there for four weeks, then
eight weeks ever since. It’s good for him. He comes home feeling enormous joy, love and
acceptance. He has [experienced] enormous growth.”
Kheel credits Lehrer and Stadlin for setting the tone. “Yoni and Vivian are the most loving, openhearted people,” she says. “They have a loving energy, and they hire staff like that. The counselors are so gi?ed with kids.
The values that are taught include empathy, compassion and a sensitivity to earth, animals and to each other.”
Lehrer describes summers at Eden Village Camp as “extraordinary.” Building upon its
inaugural season, the camp has added new activities including horseback riding,
archery, sailboating, a “sheep-to-shawl” program and pottery making, complete with
kiln and wheel. Its wilderness program has tripled its staff. “Our herbalism program was
such a hit that we expanded it,” she adds.
“These kids feel like Harry Potter making potions and lip balms.”
In 2011, Eden Village Camp received accolades as a standard-bearer, when “Slingshot,”
a resource guide for Jewish innovation, named it as one of the 50 most innovative Jewish organizations in North America.
However, you don’t have to be a kid to reap the rewards of programs at Eden Village’s
248-acre farm, which is located adjacent to the Appalachian Trail. It remains more than
a summer camp. As a year-round working farm, it offers both adult and family programs
that take place beyond the summer
Liz Malis is a local freelance writer.