Magazine

Nature immersion: Summer campers head to the Farm at Rancho San Antonio

Megan V. Winslow/town Crier
Deer Hollow Farm Wilderness Camp counselor Afsheen “Llama” Khosraviani, center, introduces campers to a fuzzy farm resident in August. Counselors, campers and interns of the camp often adopt nature-themed nicknames.

Milking cows, feeding sheep and sleeping under the stars sound like activities of a 19th-century agrarian paradise, worlds away from the hustle and bustle of Silicon Valley. But that’s everyday reality for the campers of Deer Hollow Farm’s Wilderness Camp, where youth ages 6-14 can spend a week of their summer immersed in nature.

The 10-acre Deer Hollow Farm is nestled approximately a mile into Rancho San Antonio Open Space Preserve, a public recreation area bordered by Los Altos and Cupertino. It’s a native habitat for deer, bobcats, mountain lions and other animals.

The location of the farm enables campers to combine a traditional camp experience - think arts and crafts projects or group games - with more unconventional activities. For example, campers can interact with the farm’s livestock, which includes sheep, goats, cows, chickens and rabbits. Campers also have the opportunity to hike the 24 miles of trails within Rancho San Antonio.

Up to 400 children participate in the camps every summer, according to the website for the city of Mountain View’s Recreation Division, which manages Deer Hollow Farm. Counselors, who are typically college students, and interns, who must be at least 14 years old, provide additional support alongside farm staff.

"When I first started overseeing the summer camp program in 2009, the intern program had 17 participants," said Jessica Morgan, Deer Hollow Farm’s senior recreation director. "We now bring in about 35 interns each summer." 

Summer interns assist the counselors with camp activities when campers are visiting the livestock, hiking, playing games, relaxing by the creek and during the bus ride to and from camp.

According to Morgan, many of the interns are former campers who want to remain involved at the farm and the camp. The intern program also provides training for high schoolers who aspire to be camp counselors.

During the rest of the year, there are approximately 100 adults who volunteer at Deer Hollow Farm. Positions include livestock, maintenance and garden volunteers along with school-year, weekend and nature center docents. 

Deer Hollow Farm is open daily to the public, and the nonprofit Friends of Deer Hollow Farm also holds three annual special events to raise funds for its educational programs, including Ohlone Day and Spooky Times in October and Spring Farm Tours in March and April. Ohlone Day is a living history festival that educates visitors about the culture of the Ohlone tribe, Spooky Times is the farm’s Halloween event and Spring Farm Tours allow visitors to meet newborn animals. Each event involves hands-on activities for the entire family, as well as a chance for youth docents to help out at the farm. 

From camper to intern

Youth docents are trained volunteers who help educate the community about the farm, the resident livestock or some aspect of Ohlone life at the farm’s events, according to Elizabeth Montgomery, a longtime volunteer and former Friends of Deer Hollow Farm board member. Her daughter, 13-year-old Ceci Montgomery-Eder, volunteers as a youth docent.

Ceci grew up visiting the farm on a regular basis and participating in the summer camps, which led her to become a youth docent.

"My mom helped with Deer Hollow Farm’s community outreach events and fundraisers throughout the year," Ceci said. "My dad, brother and I would join her to help out, too. From the time I was in second grade, we were regulars helping at their community events."

Despite her young age, the St. Simon Parish School eighth-grader savors the responsibility of teaching visitors about the animals.

"Many of our guests have never been close to farm animals before, so it’s a new experience," Ceci said. "I like making sure it’s positive for them."

One of Ceci’s most memorable experiences at the farm is when she tried to train a young, skittish sheep to be comfortable around groups of people.

"I got the leash on and proceeded to start walking (the sheep), but it walked me instead! It was so much stronger that it was pulling me anywhere it wanted to go, instead of the reverse," she said. "Fortunately, my dad was there, and he was able to get it under control and help me manage it. That 'experiment' taught all of us that it’s not easy to train livestock or change their natural behavior." 

Continuing her long history with the farm, Ceci said she can’t wait to apply as an intern for next summer’s camps.

"I’ve been attending the summer camps all of my life," she said. "Since I already know all of the fun things the (interns) get to do, I’m looking forward to making it official this summer."

For more information on Deer Hollow Farm, visit deerhollowfarmfriends.org. For more information on the camp and internship program, visit mountainview.gov and type "Deer Hollow" in the search field.

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