Wild Foods: Pemi’s Tastiest and Most Popular Occupation

Over the years, Wild Foods has become our most requested occupation. In a sense, it has also become a victim of its own success. (For those of you unfamiliar with Wild Foods, it is truly an amazing educational and culinary experience. Boys in the occupation join Larry Davis, Pemi’s Head of Nature, and create foods made largely or entirely from what grows naturally in Pemi’s ecosystem. Foods have included stuffed grape leaves, wild mint tea, jam from wild berries, and more.)

But, many campers are understandably disappointed because, despite repeated requests, they don’t get into the occupation. Many parents have contacted us to voice appeals on behalf of their sons. So, we think that it is time for a new policy that will mitigate some of these difficulties.

Here is some background. Each week the occupation is taught during third period, and enrollment is limited to only eight campers. No camper is allowed to get Wild Foods twice during the summer. Still, there is only a total of 48 “slots” during the summer, and so only 48 campers can come up as winners in this lottery. Yet, in some weeks, over 50 campers request it, and over the course of a typical summer over 125 different campers may ask for it. A large number must be disappointed.

There are three possible solutions to the problem: 1) offer the activity more frequently, such as two occupation periods a week; 2) enroll more campers at a time; 3) limit enrollment to older campers only.

The first two of these run into the fact that our resources are limited. There are only so many wild strawberries out there, and only so many Indian cucumber roots (the use of which kills the plant). Over the years, we have carefully managed our “harvests” so that they are sustainable. Increasing the pressure on the Indian cucumber supply would lead to their disappearance, for example. While this could be an interesting lesson in and of itself, it is not one that we wish to demonstrate. Furthermore, only Larry Davis teaches this activity, and if he is teaching two periods of it, then he is not available to teach other activities.

So, the only option left is to limit enrollment to older campers, and this is what we have decided to do. This summer, only uppers and seniors will be able to request Wild Foods. Should we find that there are empty spots, we then will open it up to Upper Lowers. We think that, by putting these restrictions in place, we will be able to place most of the campers who request it into the activity sometime during the summer, and thus fewer campers will be disappointed. For the younger campers who will no longer be eligible, it will be something to look forward to as they progress through their Pemi career.

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