Clearwater Farm in York Region is on a mission: to help kids grow by connecting them with nature. The organization, which operates under the umbrella of the Ontario Water Centre, believes whole-heartedly that the best way to ensure that something is protected is to love it. This is true whether we are talking about something small like a treasured object, or something on a much larger scale like the health of our planet. And the earlier we can get kids interested in nature, the better chance we have that our children will be responsible stewards of the environment for generations to come.
Sounds like a pretty grand and theoretical concept, huh? We promise, it’s not. Clearwater Farm does this every day with unique, engaging and hands-on programming. We are excited to tell you all about its two newest projects that connect kids and families with the humble yet extraordinary earth beneath their feet.
Mystery in the Forest
A walk in the woods is always great, but an adventure in the forest is even better. New this season at Clearwater is the Mystery in the Forest family experience. This adventure is part treasure hunt and part escape room, where hidden clues and puzzles, rhymes and activities around the scenic Clearwater woods take participants on a journey where they can really get their hands dirty and enjoy nature at its finest.
Although the larger farm property remains closed to the public due to COVID-19, the Mystery in the Forest program is a pre-booked experience that has been specifically developed to meet the province’s reopening criteria. Up to eight people—two adults and six children—in a family unit or a social bubble can reserve their unique time at the farm to take part in this offering. “You get a three-hour window where it is only you in a special designated area,” explains Jennifer Harrison, Director of Development for the Ontario Water Centre. “You follow a kind of treasure hunt and an escape room themed program where you read clues and follow them through the forest. We have a labyrinth, we have some food growing stations with different vegetables growing that kids can water and learn about, and we’ve got New Zealand rabbits that like to be fed dandelion leaves. It’s such a fun experience for kids, and it’s a safe experience that parents and kids go on together.”
With COVID-19 and the necessity of social distancing, Clearwater has not been able to welcome families and visitors like they normally would. So, when the province moved into its phases of reopening, it was important for educators at the farm to develop some kind of a family experience to welcome people back. “I think we all know about the healing powers of nature,” Jennifer says. “We wanted to be able to offer our Clearwater families the ability to still come to the farm, because we miss muddy boots and screams of laughter. Plus, not all families have access to green space.”
The program has been a great success. Jennifer, herself is a mom of two (almost) seven-year-olds, has brought her own kids through the Mystery in the Forest walk. “It appeals to all ages,” she states. “My kids are a little bit on the younger side, so I read the clues for them. But they loved running through the forest trying to find the other clues that are in boxes. And, of course, at the end there is a little bit of a treasure that you get to find.” Feedback from other participants has been incredible, with one visitor calling the program “genius,” and another sharing that children as old as 13 and 14 enjoyed their time just getting dirty and having fun. The adults, too, love being able to get outside, and take a breath of clean lake air while their kids are enjoying plenty of outdoor exercise.
As a special bonus, Clearwater is offering a discount code for families. Book your Mystery in the Forest experience here and use discount code FamExp40PN.
Gete Okosomin: the big old squash
This season, the Clearwater Farm gardens are growing a legend. Literally! the Gete Okosomin, the legendary “800-year-old” squash seeds of First Nations peoples, have been entrusted to the earth keepers of Clearwater, and are today nourished by the shores of Lake Simcoe as a joint project between Clearwater Farm and the Chippewas of Georgina. As the tale goes, these treasured seeds, which can produce fruit that top 30 pounds, were found laying dormant in a clay vessel on an archaeological dig. Now, whether this is truth or just an inspiring tall tale is up for debate, but what is known for certain is that these seeds were handed down from one generation of First Nations peoples to the next for thousands of years, and are an important part of their combined heritage.
It all started when Shelley Charles, Elder of the Chippewas of Georgina, approached Clearwater about the possibility of starting some of these ancient seeds. The ones presented to the farm in particular were harvested in the Menominee territory by First Nations youths. “[Shelley] just didn’t have the capacity or the people to look after these seeds,” recalls Jennifer. “So she asked our farmers to start them in our greenhouse. We of course said yes. What a great privilege.”
The purpose of this project is for the Chippewas of Georgina to create a First Nations seed bank to help keep this part of their culture and heritage alive. Once the groundwork for the project was laid out, Shelley Charles performed a tobacco ceremony and blessing. Clearwater’s earth keepers then started the seeds in the farm’s greenhouse before moving them outside to a special garden. Jennifer explains, “The garden is dug in mounds and filled with sticks, logs and decaying matter that holds water. It is a method which was traditionally used both by First Nations peoples as well as European settlers.”
We at York Durham Headwaters were thrilled to help Clearwater produce a film on this project called “Ancient Seeds.” Made by indigenous filmmaker Jason Jenkins, this short, two-minute film follows the life of the Gete Okosomin project beginning with Shelley Charles approaching Clearwater with her proposal. “Now we are moving to the next short film that will document the process of how they were grown, what our farmers did to help them along, and how we harvest,” Jennifer says. “There may even be a short film after that where we get more into the harvest and the seed banks.”
New programs mean perseverance
Overall, our time so far living in a COVID world has taught us the value of perseverance. We as human beings find ways to adapt to new situations despite setbacks and challenges, and that is exactly what we’ve found our businesses and attractions here in YDH have done—attractions just like Clearwater Farm, who have important work to do.
“At the onset of COVID, we obviously had to shut down our property and not offer the programs we had in the past,” Jennifer admits. “But right from the very beginning, the staff at Clearwater talked about how we could be a better place of hope for people, a place of feeling better, a place of wellness. So that’s the outlook we took from the start. We were going to look at the positives and see how we could still allow kids to connect with nature.”
For more information, visit Clearwater Farm’s website at www.clearwaterfarm.ca. Clearwater Farm is located at 1614 Metro Rd. N., Willow Beach, Ontario.
Story by Katherine Ryalen