Worms, potato peelings, and bees -- that's what this camp is about. Studying the earthworm, what it lives on, its importance in the scheme of things, is high on the list of the activities at Camp Allsaw, situated on the shore of Soyers Lake, 150 miles north of Toronto.
Sam Hambly started the camp 18 years ago. An elementary schoolteacher, Mr. Hambly was preaching the need to preserve our natural resources long before the words ecology and conservation had found a place in the popular vocabulary.
He describes recycling as the key to the conservation program at Allsaw. It begins with vegetable peelings and other organic kitchen wastes, which he prefers to refer to as "valuable commodities which eventually will be returned to the gardens to enrich and condition the soil with ingredients essential for the growth of nutritious and delicious crops."
The part that worms and other species of soil life play in breaking down organic wastes into rich soil is illustrated in very practical ways at the camp, where the boys and girls take turns helping the staff pick up the camp's daily supply of organic garbage and haul it off to the compost pile. Individual campers are also involved in chopping up kitchen waste to feed a colony of earthworms, while Mr. Hambly explains the part the worms play in helping to turn this refuse into sweet-smelling, loam-like, soil conditioner.
Allsaw is for boys and girls between the ages of 7 and 15. It is on 126 acres of mostly wooded land. However, there also, are open fields for the gardens that are planted and tended by the campers during the two-week camping periods that follow throughout the summer.
Cultivating the corn and other vegetables grown on the surrounding acres is included in camp activities, as well as caring for the rows of strawberry plants and raspberry bushes. It is Mr. Hambly's way of illustrating his belief that man must put some of his own effort back into the soil if he expects it to feed and clothe him.
When the fruit grows and ripens, the children are invited to pick and eat it in the warm summer sunshine. Not only do they find the berries taste very different from those in boxes in city stores, but, as Mr. Hambly points out, they also discover they are the sweeter for the work the campers themselves have put into cultivating the plants. He calls this the "practical application of the ecology part of the camp program. This is where the campers actually have an opportunity to taste the environment."
Every summer close to 300 teen-agers (about 70 at a time) from various parts of Canada as well as the United States attend Allsaw, where they are made aware of the contribution they can make toward improving the environment. They also participate in more traditional camp activities such as cookouts, archery, swimming, canoeing, and gymnastics on a series of rope ladders strung high in a stand of 40-year-old fir trees.
Understanding and getting close to one's natural environment are what this camp is all about. Children are taught to admire such things as the coloring of a garter snake. There are beehives at the camp, and the youngsters are shown the correct way to remove a frame from a hive without disturbing the bees.