‘Green From the Ground Up’: Changing Food at Jewish Summer Camp

Originally posted on The Jew and the Carrot
By Eliav Bock
Ramah Outdoor Adventure

In the spring of 2010, I wrote a blog about the food we would be serving at the new Ramah Outdoor Adventure, Camp Ramah in Colorado. As the only Kosher shomer Shabbat outdoor adventure camp in the county, and one of the few camps committed to being green from the ground up, we believe that it is imperative to make the food we eat fit in with the broader mission of our camp community. Several months after our inaugural summer and well into planning our next summer, we have had a chance to take a step back and evaluate the food program in the broader context of the mission of our camp.

We were warned that many campers might not be willing to eat the healthy meals provided so our staff reached beyond the standard meals of kale and brown rice to dishes that you might find in a high-end vegetarian restaurant. The menu featured fresh, unprocessed, whole grain and organic food. We ate meals like carrot pancakes and yogurt for breakfast, vegetarian tacos with a tomato and tofu filling for lunch and wheat macaroni and cheese for dinner with a side of broccoli. With the addition of a salad bar and a bread and butter station, we were able to meet the needs of our campers. One of the most pleasant surprises about our experience was that campers appreciated healthy food. Over 80% of them, in evaluations, said that they enjoyed the food.

But the healthy and fresh food at camp did not come without challenges. Our ranch is located 45 minutes by car from the closest supermarket and about two hours away from a large store like Costco. We also contracted with an organic farm located three hours away to source some of our fresh produce. For a camp committed to reducing our carbon footprint, the logistics of combining trips to the supermarket, Costco and our farm became a key part of the culinary director’s job. During the first two weeks of camp we were making five runs a week to our food sources. By the end of the summer we had managed limit our trips to once a week. In addition, midway through the summer, we contracted with Sysco to deliver much our bulk purchases (like cereals, flour, rice etc).

As we expand our program in 2011, and welcome close to 200 campers, we are committed to further refining and improving our food operation. We will hire a counselor who will be our food educator and involve the campers in the food choices made in the camp kitchen. We will also provide additional food options at the salad bar so as to ensure that every camper is able to make satisfying choices at the meals. And lastly, we hope to source additional products from local providers, brining us closer to the food we eat.

In the past few weeks we have reached out to many of our 2010 campers. It has been a true delight to hear how many of them have developed healthier eating habits since returning home from camp. As most people who have attended camp know, one summer can have a big impact.

Rabbi Eliav Bock is the founder and director of Ramah Outdoor Adventure, the only Kosher outdoor adventure camp in the country. Bock lives in Denver with his wife and son.

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