Know Your Neighbors: Elizabeth Amstutz of The Country Experience

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Elizabeth and Ed Amstutz will be leading a sleep-away camp for kids 7-12 years old on their farm in Elizabeth, Ill. this summer. The Country Experience follows American Camp Association standards and is inspected by the Jo Daviess County and Illinois State Public Health Departments. The camp staff is also trained in CPR, First Aid and food-safety.

We recently caught up with Elizabeth for some Q&A to learn more about the Country Experience and the Amstutz family.

The Amstutz family
The Amstutz family

Around Oak Park
Where are you from and how did you meet your husband?

Elizabeth Amstutz
I’m from a small town in Southern Wisconsin, called Brodhead (3000 people!) and went to school at UW Wisconsin. Ed grew up in Boulder and a suburb of Dallas before attending college at Westmont, a small Christian college in Santa Barbara.

We met while working in New York City at an ad agency about 16-17 years ago.  We actually met on the work volleyball team.

AOP
When did you decide to move to Oak Park?

Amstutz
After moving to Chicago from New York to be closer to family, it didn’t take long to figure out that with kids, we wanted to be in an area with good schools, diversity and that’s also not too suburban. That’s why we decided to move to Oak Park in 2006 when I was pregnant with our second child, Emerson.

AOP
If you own a farm in Elizabeth, Ill., do you split your time between the farm and Oak Park?

Amstutz
I’m still working in Chicago at KSM Media and the kids attend school at Holmes Elementary in Oak Park.  Ed is at the farm about 70% of his time but comes back for baseball games, school events, etc. and we head to the farm every weekend. My mother and her husband live at the farm full time, which is a huge help for both logistics and for the camp itself.  It’s a full family affair!

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AOP
What is the Country Farm Experience?

Amstutz
The Country Experience takes place on a real working farm owned by our family.  Our idea to involve kids on the farm is inspired by the Montessori philosophy.

We use hands-on experiences and real-world tools to build an appreciation for the value of time and effort, a respect for life and nature, and development of important life skills including communication, responsibility, decision-making teamwork, and respect for self and others. We hope that as kids learn to make meaningful contributions to the farm, they get in touch with the substance of their character and greater sense of the world.

It is a weeklong sleep-away camp for 7-12-year-olds, where kids become part of the family farm, even down to sleeping in the renovated barn in bunk beds.

The campers will participate in working of the farm: feeding and caring for animals, harvesting and preparing food, mending fences, building, creating, and more.  There will be daily meetings to determine who wants to do certain chores, but there will be lots of free time to fish, play with animals, lay in a hammock, or sit by the campfire.

AOP
How did you come up with the idea?

Amstutz
When our kids were attending West Suburban Montessori School in Oak Park for pre-school, the head of school told us about a similar camp in Ohio.  Our kids went for three years and LOVED it.  We saw such growth in confidence and independence. The camp is eight hours away and when we looked around we realized there were not a lot of similar opportunities close by.  While we did not grow up as farmers, we have spent the last year learning, listening, watching and doing.   

AOP
Is the camp targeted toward kids in the OPRF community?

Amstutz
We are thrilled to host kids in the OPRF community, and the camp appeals not only to OPRF but also to the broader region, including Rockford, Madison, Milwaukee and Chicago and its suburbs.  The camp is Montessori “inspired” and therefore, many in the Montessori community may feel a connection to what we are trying to accomplish.  Our friends in the Montessori community have been mentors and great resources.  But really, the camp follows the outlines below which encompass many beliefs:

We believe…

  • Adults should create a skeleton and not a cage for children
  • That youth can make a meaningful and valuable contribution
  • Respect for people, property, and the place
  • Campers can teach other kids and lead their own activities
  • Adults can often get in the way of learning…be a fly on a wall and step in to show safety and responsibility when needed
  • Adults are a gentle guide, not a lecturer
  • Children will surprise us with their creativity and resourcefulness if we allow them to
  • I do, we do, you do
  • Children have no limitations, only the limitations adults put on them
  • Don’t assume what you know about a child or what they can/can’t/like/don’t like to do
  • Listen twice as much as you talk

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AOP
How will kids get to the camp?

Amstutz
Because of how beautiful the area around the camp is, most parents will make a weekend out of drop-off and/or pickup.  Parents will drop off their children at 9 a.m. Monday morning (some also choose to stay in the beautiful Jo Daviess County and Galena area).  The trip from Oak Park takes approximately two and a half hours.  We wrap up the camp experience with a noon meal on Friday harvested, prepared and served by the campers.

AOP
Is registration for The Country Experience limited?

Amstutz
Yes, we are limited to 14 children per week-long session (due to configuration of the bunk-barn).  We currently have a few spots for boys in the weeks of July 6th and August 3rd, as well as for girls in the weeks of July 13th and August 10th.  We have had great response this first summer, and if the need arises, we can add some capacity or even another week in late July.

AOP
How much does the camp cost?

Amstutz
The camp is $975 for the week.  We offer a 10% discount for siblings and $100 referral fee to families who have registered and referred another camper.

AOP
How many staff members will be on-site at the Country Experience?

Amstutz
We have a high staff to camper ratio, with a total of 7 supervisors on-site.  Ed, Laurel and Terry (my mom and step-dad), and a cook/counselor live full-time in the farm house.  In addition, we have a camp director, adult counselor and junior counselor who round out the team.  They are currently going through training this week and next.  I hope to take a couple weeks off to be there as much as I can when camp is in session.  We use the American Camping Association standards as our guide, and actually have more supervision than their guidelines require for staffing.

AOP
Is this your first year running the camp?

Amstutz
We’ve been planning this for a number of years, ran a couple test weeks last year, and will be fully open this year.  Response and booking has been strong, and we’re excited for the campers to join us.

AOP
What can kids expect to learn at the camp?

Amstutz
While many kids will pick up farm skills from the activities at camp, we are primarily focused on life-skills like decision making, teamwork, attention to detail, taking responsibility, creativity, problem-solving, cooking, doing dishes, making up fun games, respect for self and others, and more.  Of course, kids will understand that carrots grow in the ground, not on trees or in cellophane bags, but if a child walks away understanding that they are part of society, a meaningful member of community, we have succeeded.

For more information or to register, visit http://www.thecountryexperience.com/

2 COMMENTS

  1. Thank you for the details and the great photos. The Farm is a fun place where something is always happening. Hope you all enjoy your inaugeration week, the sun shines and the goats behave.

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