Sunday, February 3, 2013

For my next question...

At the end of each week of summer camp I composed a letter to three different parents, for a grand total of nine parents, in the hopes of speaking with them about their kids' experience at camp and other questions related to food topics.

I heard from four parents and over the last part of the summer journeyed to coffee shops and homes to conduct my interviews.  I also spoke with three stakeholders involved in the work WAS (Wilderness Awareness School) and Oxbow are doing.  The point of the interviews was to gain a greater perspective of how the relationship between WAS and Oxbow was formed, what the goals of the partnership were and what they hoped the future of the partnership would look like.  From the parents I wanted to understand why sending their kids to 'farm camp' was so important, how they felt their kids had benefited from attending the camp and what they would potentially change about the camp.  In every interview I asked several key questions regarding food and the interviewee's feelings about different food issues.

A sample of questions I would ask the stakeholder interviewees:

  1. What is your background/your story?
  2. How did you become to be at Oxbow and how was Oxbow created?
  3. Where did the idea come from to use Oxbow as a WAS site?
  4. Whose idea was it?  Collaboration, individual…
  5. What did you hope the kids would gain from their experiences at Oxbow?
  6. What was your favorite moment from camp?
  7. What was the hardest part about the summer camps?
  8. What was your greatest challenge at camp?
  9. Do you enjoy summer camp, fall school tours or any one part more than the other?
  10. What do you envision for the future of these programs?
  11. What would you have done differently at camp this year or what will you do differently next year?
  12. What do you feel the program is lacking?
  13. How do you think the program could change to increase diversity and access?
  14. Do you feel the camps and programs at WAS and Oxbow are affordable?
  15. How has being on this land impacted your life, your career?
  16. What do you think the role of food is in the learning environment?
  17. What are your thoughts and feelings about purchasing and eating food that is grown locally and/or organically?
  18. What are the primary sources of your food?  For example, do you buy from chain grocery stores, local grocery stores or farmers markets?
  19. Have you, or your family, ever been worried about being able to provide food for your family?

A sample of questions I would ask the parent interviewees:

  1. How did you learn about Oxbow Farm and the Education Center?
  2. How did you learn about WAS?
  3. What made you choose Oxbow Farm?
  4. What did you hope (child's name) would learn while participating in the programs at Oxbow Farm?
  5. What did you hope (child's name) would gain from his experience at Oxbow?
  6. Have you participated in any other programs similar to what is offered at Oxbow/WAS?
  7. Do you belong to a CSA, pea patch or community garden?
  8. How long have you been farming?
  9. How did you begin farming, or what led you to farming?
  10. How long have you been raising your own meat?
  11. What made you decide to raise your own meat and farm?
  12. Is there a garden at the school (child's name) attends?
  13. Did you feel the cost of attending the programs was affordable?
  14. Did you feel that there were resources available to you for transportation and financial cost for attending the programs?
  15. Did (child's name) know a lot of the kids at camp or just a few?
  16. Did (child's name) make any new friends at camp?
  17. Do you feel living in the Valley made (child's name) experience different than if you lived in the city?
  18. Did you feel prepared for (child's name) to go to camp (i.e. did you have adequate instructions to be able to decide what (child's name) would wear and what food he should take)?
  19. What are your thoughts and feelings about purchasing and eating food that is grown locally and/or organically?
  20. What are the primary sources of your food?  For example, do you buy from chain grocery stores, local grocery stores or farmers markets?
  21. Have you, or your family, ever been worried about being able to provide food for your family?
  22. Has (child's name) been able to teach any of his friends or family about all the things he learned at camp?
  23. Is there something you will do differently at home because of (child's name) time at camp?
  24. Is there anything you would change or add to (child's name) experience at camp?
Some key things I learned from conducting interviews:
  • Spend the money on a higher quality recorder.  One which will plug into a USB drive, has background noise dampener capabilities, easy to use, lots of storage and long battery life.
  • Pick quiet locations - no coffee shops, busy roads, fans, kids, animals, etc.  If kiddos or pets are present, try to make sure they have something to do and are occupied while talking to your interviewee.
  • Go with a concrete set of questions, but also allow the interview to flow organically.  Create more of a conversation versus question and answer.
  • Ask open-ended questions.  For example, start questions with: "is there...", "how...", "why..." and "what..." are some good starters.
  • Be flexible!!  Find locations, times and dates which work for the people you are interviewing rather than having the try to work around your schedule.
  • Make notes immediately after the interview so things stick in your mind.
  • Start transcribing right away or find someone to help you.
My take aways from the interviews were as follows:
  • Every single person I interviewed cared passionately about where their food came from, how it was produced and the impact the food they purchased had on their family.
  • Every parent wanted their kiddos to learn an appreciation for the land, to gain an understanding of the importance of stewardship for the earth, to learn where their food comes from and how it is produced.
  • Some parents wanted their children to gain more confidence in the outdoors and to be healthier.
  • Some of the kids asked to return to farm summer camp who had been the year before because they loved it so much.
  • The partnership between Oxbow and WAS is doing a tremendous amount of work and is continuing to grow, morph and spread its wings.  The work this partnership is doing is incredibly important to stakeholders and parents alike.
  • Some of the parents felt the camp was expensive and others felt it was affordable.
  • A general consensus between the stakeholders was a need to increase diversity and access to the camp.
  • Most of the parents wished they could attend the camp themselves!
Conducting interviews was challenging, rewarding and very important to widening the summer camp experience from my own viewpoint to the people who were directly involved or indirectly involved by sending their kiddos to camp.  As my project has morphed and changed I wish I had focused on more food questions and really asked what people felt the barriers were to different food spaces, however, the interviews really helped me gain an understanding of how important involving food and the land as a part of our education system is.  

If you have kiddos or want to volunteer at a summer camp, please check and see if there may be a farm camp near where you live and join in the fun!

This video clip is from one of our days at camp and is of the kids and instructors singing our opening song, "Love the Earth". Again, due to confidentiality I cannot show kids' faces, so sit back and enjoy the music!

**I am eternally grateful to Teresa Botteron from NW Transcribing who helped transcribe three of my toughest interviews and saved me from feeling totally overwhelmed!


  1. Hi Rachel,

    Please know that it was my pleasure to be involved in your project! Keep up the good work - you are an inspiration to us all :)

    Your friend,

    1. Thank you so much for your kind words Teresa! It means a lot to me. =)