I have been a Hidden Villa Environmental Education Program (HVEEP) Farm and Wilderness Guide for three years now. I look forward each week during the school year to help elementary students discover and fall in love with nature. We take groups of up to eight students on a trek through the wilderness, interact with farm animals and explore our organic garden -- all in a single, action-packed day! You know you have had a great day when a child says, "I have never had so much fun! This is more fun than playing Wii !"
As a member of the Mission Fulfillment Committee I had the opportunity to help create and launch the Hidden Villa Slide show with narrative which tells the story of how our non-profit educational organization uses its organic farm, wilderness and community to inspire our children and future leaders to help create an sustainable and socially just environment. The staff, board and volunteers are highly creative, dedicated, motivated and a positive focus for change in our society.
My name is Brian Oram from England. I have been to Hidden Villa on 5 trips and have worked around the farm. Initially I lived off the farm during my visits but then was able to stay with the Property Manager on the farm. On the last 3 visits I was accompanied by my partner Vanessa. In England, following my retirement fron project managing i went on to teach Environmental Conservetion with local colleges and Universities.
On the projects I carried out on the farm, I've put up fences, did a riverbank restoration project in front of the big house, built raised beds and put an access tunnel in the children's garden.
On our last full visit we ran irrigation lines in the CSA fields whilst Vanessa also cleared out and re-planted a hidden garden at the back of the big house.
I will say that on every visit a feeling of calm and wellbeing pervades you as soon as you walk through the farm entrance
Summer camp was a new thing for me. In 1998, I went to my first summer camp away from home- Hidden Villa. I did not know what to expect or feel. To make a long story short, I kept coming back. Why? The activities such as goat walks, hikes, milking cows. The people you met-counselors were always supportive, energetic, and glad that campers were there. And finally, to experience a new environment- getting away from the city life, enjoying nature's sounds (coyotes, owls, creek water) and the stars. Summer camp has been a magnificent experience. I did Resident Camp, Farm and Wilderness, Bay to Sea, and the ACT leadership program. From 2006 to 2008, I worked for the summer camp in the Day Camp program, meeting new counselors every summer and having fun. The campers were a delight to have and I learned a lot from them too. I also learned about children at that age and about myself. Because of that, I worked as one of the the Day Camp Program Heads in Summer 2009, increasing my experience and knowledge because of the opportunity Hidden Villa has given me. In the upcoming summer, 2010, I will be one of the program head of the Tipi Camp program. And I keep coming back because of the same reasons listed above. Also, working with the campers is a rewarding experience because they want to be there. I want to provide the same experience I was given so that they will keep continuing to come back and become the next generation of Hidden Villa Summer Camp.
Hidden Villa is truly a local treasure - the staff is incredibly dedicated to their mission of "inspiring a just and sustainable future through our programs, land and legacy". The hostel there has been operating since 1937, the multicultural summer camp started in 1945, and the Environmental Education program was launched on the very first Earth Day in 1970. I love volunteering at Hidden Villa, it is a peaceful place and it's so fun to see the faces of the kids when they are there on field trips!
Hidden Villa was a great place to work. I have never worked with a group of more dedicated people or collaborated so easily. Teaching the interns about animal husbandry and training them to do animal chores was probably one of the best parts of the job. Assisting in the birth of 10 piglets with the interns bundled up and watching late one night, ready to run and get supplies if needed. The property itself is an oasis in Silicon Valley. It offers so much for your senses. It offers so much for all ages. Children and adults alike will enjoy the animals on the farm and the educational garden. I think that wandering among the chickens is particularly appealing to most children. It makes a small and innocuous farm animal accessible to them so they can be entertained by chicken movements and sounds and also warm up to the notion of being near animals in general. When I interacted with children during Summer Camp, I could see the city child and see how the farm and camp activities let them open up and be themselves. New possibilities opened up for them too. Milking a cow or a goat, hanging out with pigs - they learned new skills, overcame fears, and took leadership. The same kid who said,
Hidden Villa is a transformative place. Although I was inclined toward sustainability and protecting the environment, Hidden Villa has made me passionate about it. The sustainable architecture of its buildings is inspiring (I'd never heard of a straw building before! Eye-opening!). The land itself is beautiful. The environmental education programs are for youth, but have educated me as an adult, as well -- I've learned much more about farming and biology through these programs and even by becoming a shareholder in Hidden Villa's Community Supported Agriculture Program -- shareholders get weekly explanations of the organic produce they're receiving, including farming methods, challenges, information about the fruits and vegetables themselves, and even recipes. And finally, I've never worked with such a quantity of some of the nicest, most intelligent people you'll ever meet.
My son's 3rd grade class went to Hidden Villa for a general tour and hike. During the hike, there was an activity where the students were allowed to hike alone for several hundred yards. They were timed 5 minutes apart so the students truly had an experience of solitude and awakened senses. This experience had special impact for for a few kids whose families live in apartments. They told me they'd never been outside alone before, in any urban or natural setting. For all the kids, the activity was a big eye opener. They were able to explore solitude in a safe setting, and really drink in the natural world around them. Two years later, I still hear those kids occasionally refer to the trip. It is an A+ memory for them.
My experience as a farm tour guide at HV has always been positive and rewarding. The staff and other volunteers are always welcoming and delightful. I have been involved with Hidden Villa for over eight years.The farm itself is a wonderful place in which to spend time... peaceful,beautiful,calming. The school children are full of wonder, excitement and energy... traits that help renew my spirit.
As we enter the pygmy forest and sit down on the leafy earth the two boys with me, both second-graders from an inner-city school ask if they can go explore while we wait for the rest of the group to come in from their "alone walk." I am surprised because these two have been struck to me like banana slug slime all morning, but the open airy feeling under the low canopy of scrub oaks, and the myriad of child-sized tunnels through the tree trunks is pretty irresistible to most kids. Dumping their backpacks, they stand for a moment uncertain, then head cautiously into one of the openings, hand in hand, and I hear one say to the other,"This is just like Sam and Frodo." That overheard comment, and many more like it, are what keep me coming back to my volunteer job as a wilderness guide at Hidden Villa. I was raised hiking, camping and backpacking; I work as a park ranger. I am ever so very happy and comfortable in the woods and this job is my chance to share that joy and comfort and excitement with our society's nature-deprived children. Let them climb on the bouncy tree, let them climb to the top of the Rock of Gibralter, let them take off their shoes and wade in the creek. Bring them back as dirty and tired and happy as possible. Some days are a struggle. Some days I think I have way too much to do to be spending half of my days off every month at a volunteer job, but then there are those comments, those special kid comments, that remind me that my time spent taking kids into the woods is, in the long run, probably a greater service to society than any number of citations I may write in my "real" job.
Hidden Villa provides the best combination of Nature trails and farm for teaching kids (and adults) connection with the earth. As a volunteer guide, I see the children, many of whom have never been on a nature trail or seen wild deer before before, explore with enthusiasm. Then bringing them to the farm where they can taste fresh vegetables and fruits and touch live farm animals really connects them. All the while they learn about the decomposition cycle and practice an attitude of thankfullness. I love the place.