Here at the Youth Enrichment Center, we offer our land, our programs, and our hearts and minds to provide a setting where children can learn – through nature – that they have value and that their lives are meaningful.
By participating in farm activities, children learn that they are not defined by their limitations but are valued for their contributions to the world.
As Rachel Carson, famed conservationist and writer once said, “Those who dwell among the beauties and mysteries of the earth are never alone or weary of life.”
Our Executive Director and founder of the Youth Enrichment Center, Nancy Breen, recounts her experience working directly with many teens, both as employer and mentor. “Throughout the years, I have worked with young people and witnessed first-hand how many of these children lose their way or are overlooked in such a busy world. I believe that all children should be afforded the opportunity to experience life in a healthy, safe environment and to learn about their special place in the world,” Breen says.
That vision is what drove Breen to establish the Youth Enrichment Center at Hilton-Winn Farm. Since the center’s founding in 2002, we’ve re-established the Hilton-Winn Farm as a working farm, complete with a renovated barn and farmhouse.
Our magic garden and orchard
In 2009, we happily partnered with The 1772 Foundation to plant our heirloom apple orchard and vast vegetable garden full of indigenous plants and heirloom varieties. The orchard and garden are great community builders and allow us to share tangible mementos with our many visitors.
When we planted the orchard and heirloom garden, our hearts were full of hope for the impact they could make. The actual influence is far greater than we anticipated. There is magic in that garden and orchard!
We know that children are tactile and that they learn by doing. What we didn’t anticipate was how it would feel to witness children from urban settings discover ripe vegetables and learn to harvest them. We watch as they stand taller and straighter, puffed up with pride because they are important enough, big enough, and valuable enough to twist a large cucumber from its vine.
Teaching old ways can inspire new uses
Here at the Hilton-Winn Farm, we have a strong connection to the area’s history and land use traditions. Farm visitors learn about early Americans in Maine and the methods they used to till the land and sustain themselves. Through teaching the farm’s history, we teach children how many traditional methods are still viable options – and are needed now more than ever –in today’s world.
We believe farm visitors can learn about the old land use methods and translate them into modern usage. Some may come away inspired to recycle, to start a container garden, or to buy their produce locally, while others realize that eating vegetables is “really cool.” Maybe some even start to compost.
Seeing possibilities through nature
Our vegetable garden, orchard, and forests provide a window to nature and to farming. But more importantly, they give child visitors a window to a different place and time and, ultimately, to a different them.
Our programs are designed around experience-based agricultural education to promote a greater connectedness to the outdoors and to the food supply. Our programs provide thousands of children and their families with environmental, educational, and positive youth development activities aimed at fostering a sense of stewardship and personal connection to the natural world and to one another.
Our activities and programs are designed to allow all children – and adults! – to participate. From seasonally scheduled, family-oriented Farm Fun Days that include such fun stuff as hayrides, farm animal visits, and sledding, to structured summer day camps, including Summer Fun and Summer Fun: Autism Spectrum Disorder, we have programs to suit everyone’s needs.