Wild Yonder launches the first summer session of its food-centric camp for grown-ups—or as its founders call it, “summer camp with cocktails.”

By Emily Kaiser Thelin
Updated May 23, 2017

On June 28 in Pittsboro, N.C., Wild Yonder launches the first summer session of its food-centric camp for grown-ups—or as its founders call it, “summer camp with cocktails.” Wild Yonder launched this spring, run by a trio of rising-star North Carolinians: event planner Heather Cook, architect Meredith Pittman, and a Food & Wine vet, writer and editor Kaitlyn Goalen.

Partly fueled by summer-camp nostalgia, the three women also seek to spotlight the thriving foodways of their state. For the upcoming one-day session, “Survival of the Wildest,” camp counselors include star North Carolina chef Ashley Christensen, who will lead a discussion about food and community while hosting the cocktail hour. Local musician and outdoorsman Stephen Mullaney will lead a course on how to survive a zombie apocalypse.

Here, Goalen talks about founding Wild Yonder, the camp experience and goals.

Heather, Meredith and I have been friends for a long time. In the summer of 2013, were reminiscing over beers and fried chicken at a bar, and this idea just came out. We were motivated to make it a reality by all that’s going on in the Triangle Region. There’s so much growth going on, so many young entrepreneurs starting so many exciting projects, but it’s not as nationally recognized as it deserves. A lot of the entrepreneurs are friends of ours. We saw the opportunity to create something that celebrates that, and how freaking gorgeous it is here.

We don’t consider this “glamping” in any way. You get dirty. It’s not superficial. But it’s meant to be fun and relaxing. We’re not trying to push people that far out of their comfort zone.

Music is also important to us. The Triangle area has some unbelievably talented people doing really cool stuff. We end every camp with a campfire, led by a local musician. In June it will be Phil Cook of Megafaun, who’s also Heather’s husband. In the future we may do an entirely music-themed camp.

I can’t wait for the zombie apocalypse class. Stephen is the type of guy who can survive in the woods for two weeks with a nail file and a book of matches. He’s going to show us things like what you should take first if you have to pillage someone’s house. (It’s nail polish, because you can use it to quickly start a fire.)

Two sources of huge inspiration for us were El Cosmico in Marfa, Texas, and Camp Wandawega in Wisconsin. The Camp Wandawega folks have been incredibly generous with their experiences.

Our ultimate goal is to have a permanent space in the woods. These day camps are pilot projects for us to figure out what works. We didn’t have any start-up funds to buy a big piece of land. So while we write the business plan and court investors, we decided to build the brand and get people excited about it. We’re looking at a bunch of sites, all within an hour’s drive of the Research Triangle. The idea is to have a variety of options, whether you want to camp out with your own gear or stay the night in a teepee or a bunkhouse, host a wedding or hold a corporate retreat. We’ll offer à la carte visits, and some weekends we’ll offer themed packages. We’re not hyper-local: In the future we plan to bring in folks from outside the state. One thing I can say for sure, if I can make a living running a summer camp for grown-ups that has cocktails, I’ll be the happiest person on the planet.