In spring 2007, my co-worker, Brian Rahmer, came up with the idea for a camp where young people could learn how to be health ambassadors who teach others about healthier living. I suggested calling it Camp FRESH. With minimal time to plan but a firm agreement that Wilmington needed a youth program with a health focus, we set out to improve the health of the city, one teen at a time.
The camp started with about 35 participants. It mixed education with community surveys, while trying to understand why it was so hard to find healthy food options in Wilmington’s neighborhoods.
We already knew from working and living in the city that access to fresh produce was, at best, limited. It was easy to find potato chips, soda and pizza in many corner stores, but nearly impossible to find fresh apples or summer produce for sale. That first summer, the Camp FRESH team stayed motivated through heat, transportation difficulties and a general apathy toward all things healthy, determined to find answers.
Since 2007, Camp FRESH has become a proud family affair. New participants, like Joshua Yearwood, have replaced older siblings who were previously involved. Like his brother Mikkel, Josh was interested in making his community stronger and saw Camp FRESH as a chance to expand that interest. His group worked with the Delaware Center for Horticulture to build raised-bed gardens at Howard High School, where the first Camp FRESH produce stand opened in summer 2008. In summer 2009, Camp FRESH helped build and tend Wilmington’s first urban farm, at 12th and Brandywine streets, where a second produce stand opened, followed by a third outside Wilmington Hospital.
I’ve noticed that in the midst of this growth, Camp FRESH evolved into a bonding experience for everyone involved. Working together all summer to improve lives was having that effect. We gained new respect for having a commitment to fighting for social injustices. After all, not having access to healthy foods is pretty high on the list.
Another summer coming to an end, we are still proud of the progress and remain optimistic about positive changes, including the opening of a number of new supermarkets and farmer’s markets. We also are feeling optimistic about Wilmington’s attitude toward diet and exercise. It feels as if people are more “into” their health. The Urban Farm is thriving thanks to the community members who have proudly taken ownership of it. And Camp FRESH is proud to be playing a part in what we hope is a lifestyle revolution. This year, we continued surveying to see how attitudes about healthy eating and food access have evolved in the city since 2007. The work is never done, and as long as the need exists, we will continue to strive; but if this ever ends, we now have the satisfaction of knowing we’ll leave behind a fresher, healthier Wilmington.