Indigo Ocean and a Kids Can Cook summer camper

PBLC Program Manager & Kids Can Cook Summer Camp Manager

Indigo Ocean knew from an early age that she was interested in teaching, but was going to teach differently than the convention. She grew up in Schenectady with parents who both worked as public school teachers and encouraged their children to go into academia. As a teenager, she volunteered for the local ARC and was drawn to working with people with special needs.

“I was interested in people who didn’t fit into the typical framework,” Indigo said. “There are many kids who really excel in ways they might not otherwise just by changing the setting. There is so much learning to be done outside of the classroom.”

Indigo pursued her interest in alternative education by working at the Anderson Center for Autism, where she met her husband Gary. In the 80s, Indigo became interested in Waldorf education following the birth of their first son Ben. That interest brought them to Hawthorne Valley Waldorf School, where Indigo began work as the 1st grade playgroup assistant in 1997.

Over the years, she also served as the school librarian and completed her Waldorf teacher education through the Hawthorne Valley Alkion Center. Following a brief time as a class teacher at HVS, a new opportunity arose in 2008 that spoke to her interest in teaching unconventionally.

Hawthorne Valley had offered residential on-farm programming at Hawthorne Valley Farm since 1972, but a new initiative arose to meet the needs of local children interested in learning about farming and nutrition. Indigo readily agreed to become the manager of Kids Can Cook Summer Camp, and then stayed on as the Farm & Arts Program Manager, offering day programs that included after school and in-school programs as well as field trips to the Farm. About five years ago, the residential and day programs integrated into the Place Based Learning Center.

In her role, Indigo helps provide farm-based programming to visiting schools from urban centers as part of the Visiting Students Program, but the work that she feels most passionate about is the local outreach programs, Farm and Food Explorers After School Programs and Kids Can Cook: A Farm-to-Table Summer Camp.

These programs focuses on providing children from local communities who often don’t have access to hands-on experiences in nature with the opportunity to participate in farm-based learning programs and cooking classes free of charge.

“We focus on sharing and preparing food in celebratory ways,” Indigo said. “I think that is so important for everyone to experience because it’s a basic human need.”

In partnership with the Hudson City School District, Indigo and colleague Paul RIx run Farm Explorers After School program at Hawthorne Valley Farm during the first and last semesters of the year. During the middle semesters, Indigo collaborates with Camphill Hudson’s Solaris Center for the Social Arts to offer the Food Explorers program that focuses on nutrition and cooking. Activities in these programs vary from cooking and baking to crafting with natural materials and tending the program’s sheep.

“I’ve always associated purposeful activities with positive results in different learners,” Indigo said. “I’ve found that things that are more expressive and practical make kids really shine.”

Though running the programs and teaching the children is the heart of Indigo’s work, just as important are the connections and collaborations she maintains with fellow community organizations and social service agencies in the county. One such important network is the Hudson Out-of-School Time Collaborative, made up of organizations providing out of school experiences and programs for children and families in the Hudson City School District.

“Each month we meet to talk and visit each other’s work,” Indigo said. “Because of that, we are able to refer children to the programs that we think they would benefit from the most. We recently also began to work with the City of Hudson on a policy level to try to make things more children and family friendly.”

Connections like these help Indigo identify children who would benefit from the Kids Can Cook Summer Camp that runs for three sessions each summer. Since it began in 2009, Kids Can Cook has had half of its slots each summer filled with children who come free of charge. Many of these children either have participated in Farm or Food Explorers or are referred by collaborative organizations.

During the two weeks of camp, children have opportunities to gain first-hand experience tending farm animals, working in the garden, learning to cook and bake, and trying nature-based, practical crafts. They also explore the fields, woods, and streams of the 900-acre Biodynamic farm the camp calls home.

Indigo believes it is important for all children to not only access a transformative on-farm experience, but to do so in a diverse social setting  so they can learn with and from each other during the two weeks they are together.

“Children often feel their experience here changes how they look at life,” Indigo said. “One of Kids Can Cook’s goals is to build community, and when people can celebrate each other’s family culture and the different ways families do things, it can have lifelong implications for how we treat people who are different than us.”

To learn more about Kids Can Cook and how you can support this work, please click here.