Sharing a love of the farm life

Tina Goodnight offers several camps to help children gain an appreciation for animals and nature

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Campers and leaders inspect plants at Fern Hollow, part of Camas Camp-n-Ranch. Pictured clockwise, from left, is camper Raegan Brandy, counselors Tracy Frost and Sharon Barney, and camper Meagan Shellman. In the background are, left to right, Kathryn Sudbeck and Lexie Leyden.

At Camas Camp-n-Ranch, there are no strangers.

“Come on in,” director Tina Goodnight says. “Everyone is a friend here.”

Known as “Grandma Tina” to many, she is busy running a variety of local, farm-based summer camps, hoping to encourage a love of animals and the outdoors.

The farm even has a mascot: Sugar, the one-legged rooster who greets everyone and loves to be held by children.

“Everyone that comes here is looking for something,” Goodnight said. “The parents are looking for quality programs for their kids, and the kids are looking for new experiences. Many of them have never even seen a chicken or a goat up close before.”

Camas Camp-n-Ranch is also a working 4-H farm, which means that livestock and grounds care takes place round the clock.

“We’re a little out-of-the-box on this,” Goodnight said. “The real future of 4-H is to bring a community partnership about.”

This is how it works: Families who want their children to participate in 4-H, but don’t necessarily have the acreage or facilities to care for livestock keep the animal at Camas Camp-n-Ranch. In return, participants are responsible for their animal’s care and for farm chores on assigned days.

“It’s a chance to experience the 4-H lifestyle one step away,” Goodnight said.

Goodnight is also hoping to promote the farm as an event location for birthday parties and 4-H events.

Goodnight has lived at her Camas farm since 1996, and in the area her entire life.

The camps began after her family’s income dropped substantially, and she and her husband were looking for a way to continue their 4-Seasons 4-H Group.

“The purpose of this is to have a partnership with the families,” Goodnight said. “We want to give kids experience with livestock, and also teach them sustainability and responsibility for the earth.”

Her day camps extend that mission. “Classic camp” is an introduction to 4-H and ranch life. Campers learn how to care for livestock, trek in the woods and make ranch crafts. From there, options include “gone green camp,” focused on earth-saving activities; “wild west camp,” which includes pioneer activities and building campsites in the wood; and “ranger horse camp,” for those with some riding experience.

“I just love watching the expressions on the kids faces as they experience something for the first time,” Goodnight said. “This is really an extension of our family. We want to extend our farm lifestyle and our beliefs with as many people as we can.”

Tracy Frost is volunteering as a camp counselor for the first time. During the school year, she drives a bus for the Evergreen School District.

“What I enjoy most is seeing the kids who have never seen a chicken or goat go from ‘ick’ to holding them,” Frost said. “It’s just a total transformation. They learn so much about animals and nature.”

She added that Goodnight’s welcoming attitude was a big part of why she volunteers as well.

“When you walk though Tina’s door, you feel like family,” she said. “It helps you fulfill the same dream she has.”

Haleigh Sudbeck, 12, is both a camper and counselor this year.

“It’s a lot of fun doing both,” she said. “I get to have fun with the other counselors and play with the kids, too.”

Sudbeck’s favorite part of camp was caring for the goats. “I’d never even seen one before I got here,” she said.

Wyatt Sims, 7, also loves the goats.

“I’d never seen goats or chickens before, except at the fair,” he said. “I love the animals, but my favorite part of camp is spending time with my friends.”

Jackie Goodnight, Tina’s daughter-in-law, works as the camp’s head wrangler, overseeing the horse riding program.

“I love watching the kids gain confidence while working with horses,” she said. “My goal is to see each of them forge a relationship with the horse and be successful riders.”