July 27th – On the Topic of Ort

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Hello, and happy Thursday! My name is David Chodakewitz. I am one of the Discoverer, Pioneer, and Trailblazer Coordinators this summer. Today, since I have been given editorial license over the Merrowvista blog, I wanted to take this opportunity to talk about one of my favorite subjects: Ort!

As my fellow coordinator Peter would love to tell you, Ort is not only a Merrowvista acronym (standing for “our remaining tidbits”), but also a Middle English word meaning “a morsel left at a meal”. We talk about ort a lot at Merrowvista meals. In particular, at the end of each meal, we collect and weigh the ort of our entire community. Then, during the next meal, we add our ort total to the Ort Board, so that we can track our weights, analyze our results, and hold ourselves accountable.

On a surface level, our Ort Program gives us an entry point into conversations with campers about sustainability and the impact we have on the environment. We remind campers that in order for our food to be made, transported, and prepared, a lot of carbon gases are emitted into the atmosphere. Furthermore, because of our composting system, we are able to discuss with kids and teenagers what happens to their food when they dispose of it, and the different benefits we get from composting an apple, for example, versus throwing it in the trash.

However, to me, the core of the Ort Program is encouraging kids to put appreciation into action. At various points throughout the day, we ask kids to reflect on and name people, things, or places they are grateful for. Often, in the Moment of Gratitude at the beginning of meals, campers express their thankfulness for the kitchen staff or the farmers who grew the vegetables.  These moments set the stage for our discussions about ort.

The essential thesis of the Ort Program is: it is important to be thankful for things in our lives that improve our well being; taking the extra time to act on that appreciation is even better. Gratitude is not just a feeling, but also an action. So if campers have stated their thanks for the kitchen staff during the moment of gratitude, we get the opportunity to think even more about that gratitude through our ort programming.  If we feel thankful to the kitchen staff, and if we want to act upon that feeling, what are the ways we can do that? How about if we feel thankful for the farmers or truck drivers, knowing that we might not ever get to thank them in person?  There are a lot of creative answers to this question that Merrowvista campers and participants have shared with me over the years. However, my hope is that we can understand that not taking more food than we need is one of the most important ways we can honor the people who made our meal and value the effort they put into creating it. In essence, by not wasting food, we can show gratitude towards all those people, even if we can’t always say the words “thank you” to them.

But it doesn’t stop in the Eating Lodge, because living out our gratitude through actions is a skill that can impact almost every aspect of our lives. How can I show that I am grateful for my friends? Or for my family? Or my favorite place? Or if another value is more important to a camper, how can they truly live out that value, rather than simply talking about it? These may seem like some pretty lofty goals for a simple activity, but I truly believe that these small building blocks are the ones that, over time, help our campers discover their “own best selves”.