“I think Chewonki’s mission is one the whole world ought to share,” says Sam Sifton, Chewonki alumnus and New York Times food editor. Sam has a deep connection to Maine and attended Camp Chewonki in the 1970s and ’80s before beginning his career in journalism.
Since moving into his current role as food editor at the New York Times, Sam has been using his considerable platform (his daily newsletter has three-million subscribers) to write about food, fishing and the outdoors. “Food,” Sam says, “is a great subject for understanding where we are and what’s happening to us, always. Because it’s true what they say. What we eat is who we are.”
Sam’s food writing often highlights local farms and seasonal ingredients. He likes simple recipes that bring out the best qualities of each element and recognizes that meals are as much about connecting with others as they are about nourishing ourselves.
These are the same ideas that drive Chewonki’s food philosophy. Fifty percent of our food is either grown on-site or purchased from regional farms. Our menu is simple and seasonal, and food is prepared, served and enjoyed by students, staff, and faculty together.
“We don’t manage our own milking operating because it’s the most efficient approach,” says Chewonki kitchen manager, Bill Edgerton. “We do it because it’s a teaching tool.” Immersion in the full cycle of Chewonki’s food systems, from seeding, harvesting, and preservation, to preparing recipes and recycling left-over nutrients, is an incredible learning experience for Chewonki participants. “It helps us understand our relationship to the natural world on both an individual and global level,” Bill says. Likewise, eating meals as a community requires more work and planning, but dining together offers rich social and emotional learning opportunities for all involved.
Sam’s clearest memories of Chewonki aren’t of the dining hall, however. It was actually his time on the Mariners trip in the 1980s that’s etched most deeply – “eight weeks of rowing and sailing that left me with a self-confidence and sense of accomplishment that has stayed with me, that buoys me still.”
Sam and his wife, Tina, began sending their two children to Chewonki in 2011. “My kids got from Chewonki what I did, and I’m thrilled that happened. They blossomed.” Sam’s younger child will be a counselor-in-training at Chewonki this summer. “I’m so proud of her, and of what she’s been given by the experiences she’s had on the trail with Chewonki. I can’t wait to see what happens next!”
Sam has spent every summer of his life in Maine, a connection that often comes out in his daily NYTimes newsletter. Sam also guest-edited DownEast Magazine’s April 2019 Food Issue, in which he wrote about recipes perfected on Maine’s Ragged and Bailey Islands. Of course, “it all tastes best if cooked on a woodstove in the evening sun as a wet dog sleeps in the most inconvenient place on the floor, as children finish a puzzle at the kitchen table,” he writes.