Summer Camp Fund

Camp Celo provides plenty of fun on a working farm

Camp Celo is named for the mountain above it in Burnsville, and is one of the camp’s participating in The Charlotte Observer’s Summer Camp Fund.
Camp Celo is named for the mountain above it in Burnsville, and is one of the camp’s participating in The Charlotte Observer’s Summer Camp Fund. Camp Celo

Farm-to-table has been a restaurant trend for the past few years. But Camp Celo – named for the mountain above it in Burnsville – has been doing farm-to-table dining for seven decades.

The camp, celebrating its 70th anniversary this summer, is part of a working family farm. Campers care for bunnies and goats. They feed pigs and milk cows.

And they gather chicken eggs that they'll later eat for breakfast. There’s nothing that looks, tastes or feels like an egg you’ve harvested yourself, said Drew Perrin, the camp’s director.

“Reaching into the nest for the first time and pulling out a warm egg that’s just been laid is an unforgettable experience,” he said.

Since 2009, the Observer Summer Camp Fund has raised over $1.5 million and sent more than 3,000 children from the area to day and sleepaway camps. This summer, more than 500 kids will attend 33 camps, thanks to donations from Observer readers and the community. Eight of those are headed to Camp Celo.

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Camp Celo, a participant in the Observer's Summer Camp Fund program, is part of a working farm that teaches campers responsibility and respect for nature. Camp Celo

Farming brings a sense of accomplishment each day – and a sense of self-worth.

Destiny Alexander, 12, is a scholarship recipient who’s returning to Celo for her third summer this year. Her mom, Darlene Lee, said Destiny comes home from camp a little more grown-up and with a little more self-esteem each year.

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“Destiny loves camp,” Lee said. “She loves hiking and milking the goats. She just loves being outdoors – unlike her mom – which is something we didn’t realize until she went to camp.”

Campers – all between the ages of 7 and 12 – are assigned farm chores when they arrive at camp. It’s rigorous work that doesn’t feel like work at all.

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“There’s real excitement about digging in the garden,” Perrin said. “Campers have been known to pull carrots out of the ground, rinse them off and snack on them on the spot. They’ll occasionally hand-letter a sign offering ‘Free Carrots’ at a veggie stand at the edge of our dirt road.”

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It's time for a pig chore at Camp Celo, which is part of a working farm. Camp Celo

A core principle of Camp Celo is building kids up and leaving them feeling self-assured and confident after camp, Perrin said. “Our Quaker belief is that the light of God is in every person, and this is really exemplified in shinning a light on the unique strengths of every camper.”

One parent wrote: “(My child) absolutely experienced a growth in his spirit after camp. He was more in tune with nature, gained vast knowledge of trees, leaves, organic food and nutrition.”

Destiny returned home asking how she could help around the house.

Campers who come to Celo via the Observer’s Summer Camp Fund, which is designated for first-time campers, may be able to return for two additional summers.

That’s thanks to the Bruce Irons Camp Fund, which provides residential summer camp experiences, year-round enrichment and mentoring for five consecutive years starting in fifth grade to low-income, high-potential Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools students.

There’s nothing glamorous about overnight camp, and Celo is particularly rustic. The cabins are wooden platforms covered with large canvas tents.

Life on the farm takes effort. But it comes with plenty of sweet rewards.