In 1952, William Cooper Procter donated 1200 acres of farmland to the Diocese of Southern Ohio. One thousand of those acres were rented out to farmers and produced funds for the newly organized Procter Farm and Camp, and a summer camping program was launched.
For the next 50+ years, many improvements were made on the camp property, notably a dining hall, several cabins, a comfortable, year-round conference center, a chapel, and a lake. With the new additions, the camp took on new life as a conference center. It was not unusual for summer camp sessions to be sold out. As time went on, clergy began serving as chaplains for the summer sessions and new camps were added, such as one for those suffering grief over a loss of a loved one, a Wilderness Camp (among the few trees on the property) and a “Silver” Camp for those over 60.
With all the exciting changes occurring, however, there was still a disconnect between the farm and the camp. That 1,000 acres leased out yielded income, but that seemed to be all the connection. One year a very small garden was planted out by the highway, so that at least there was a visible nod to farming. And in the late 2000s a farmer was hired to work some of the 200 acres of camp property to grow produce, but still, that effort had little connection with the daily camping program.
In 2015, Amy Boyd was hired as Executive Director, and she in turn hired Danielle Vogel as the Farm and Business Development Manager. Danielle and a few summer interns began to farm six of the acres of the camp property, and food was being grown to supplement food in the dining hall, to sell at local farm markets and to assist community food endeavors. The Procter Store was opened in nearby London, to sell Procter produce and crafts. Ironically, although the name was now changed to the Procter Center, it seemed to finally be living into its original name of Procter Farm. Still lacking, however, was a physical incorporation of the farm operation into the camping program.
Campers spent time learning about farming
with camp farm director Amy Melena (third from left) during camp sessions this summer.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the summer of 2020 was a bust for Procter. There were no youth or family camps, and few in-person conferences. But in April 2021, Amy Boyd made a brilliant move that has led Procter to truly live up to its original name. She hired a young woman who had extensive experience in both camping and farming, and Danielle turned over a sizable plot of land to her total supervision to be farmed by and incorporated into daily life at camp. Amy Melena became the first ever Procter Camp Farm Director.
During my time in our diocese, I have commissioned the summer staff each year. When Amy Boyd told me that she was hiring a camp farm director, I told her I thought the hand of God must surely be upon her. When I went to commission the summer staff in June 2021 and met Amy Melena, I knew that was the case. She impressed me from the moment we met and has continued to do so ever since. This impression was solidified when I asked her what her vision for the summer was and she said, “Camp is a place for campers to come experience who and how they can be in the world. The farm allows them to participate in God’s action hands-on and learn how they can impact our food system from seed to harvest.” With this simple statement, Amy Melena had summed up what Procter is all about.
Even with the cloud of COVID still hovering, the Procter Board supported reopening summer camp in 2021. Since youth numbers were down, extra family camps and the new Silver Camp were added to the schedule. A day camp for local youth, led by Darien McCoy, was added to run concurrently with the residential sessions. Amy Boyd took a more hands-on role with summer camps than past executive directors had, and Kate Howton was hired as the residential camp director. The number of counselors was down, which made for lots of job sharing and some interesting scheduling challenges, but Amy Melena’s extensive farm knowledge and camp experience and Kate’s rich Procter background made an unbeatable combination.
The summer camping sessions were organized so that each day, campers had three elective sessions. For one of them, everyone took a turn going to the farm. Then the campers could choose their second elective between arts and crafts or helping to create a quilt for the center. Amy Boyd organized and ran the quilt elective, assisted by Mariann Price, and they reported that some of the most unlikely campers became the best quilters. Five quilts were created for use at the Center. The counselors were divided between overseeing the day camp, leading the creative arts elective, assisting with the quilting, or working with “Farmer Amy.”
Bishop Price, left, and Canon to the Ordinary John Johanssen, right, with the 2021 Summer Camp counselors
Whenever I could, I observed Farmer Amy at work, and I realized just what a perfect hire she was. Not only did she handle all tasks relative to the farm plot, but she was also a brilliant teacher for children and adults alike, gently instructing while allowing them to participate in the farm tasks. Each day the chaplain for that camp set the theme for the day with a Bible passage, and Amy used that passage as a foundation for her teaching about God’s abundance, the sanctity of the earth, and our role as caretakers of the earth and stewards of God’s abundance. That was coupled with lots of practical tidbits about herbs, vegetables, fruit, chickens, pigs, eggs, compost piles and even edible flowers. Several adults at family camp remarked how much they had learned from her. Her relationship with the total camping program was also evident as she, a seasoned camper herself, was fully engaged in all the usual camp activities ranging from campfires, talent shows and sports, to the closing chapel service. Likewise, Kate and some of the counselors were present to support her in the farm elective. It was the union of camp and farm that made Procter Center and Farm truly a unified dream.
In the Fall, when the interns must return to school it is always crunch time for Danielle to finish the harvest and prepare the farm for winter. This year one of the family campers, Annika Russo from St. Patrick’s, Dublin, was so inspired by the farm elective that she and her daughter, Gretta, who is home schooled, relocated to Procter to assist Danielle. Their several weeks of full-time work was a godsend. This is but one result of the newly born camp/farm experience.
The summer of 2021 at Procter was a magical time of bringing together just the right people at the right time. It was not perfect. The cloud of COVID remained, the numbers were down, and the always lingering worry about money was still there, but the wedding of camp and farm had finally occurred. God shone upon the Procter Center in 2021. Hopefully this will be even greater in 2022.
The Rt. Rev. Kenneth L. Price, Jr., is the retired Bishop Suffragan of the Diocese of Southern Ohio.