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bavila

educational programs for local/organic farms

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I may be helping out a local organic farm start up a nonprofit for educational programs, and I'm wondering what others might have done already.

There's the Edible Schoolyard approach, of course, cooking classes, and field trips. What have you seen that worked or didn't work?


Bridget Avila

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My CSA farm does an annual harvest festival called the Hoes Down. Thousands of people show up every year. http://www.fullbellyfarm.com/hoesdown.html

The farm also hosts many field trips & overnight camping trips for schoolkids. There's summer camp program for kids as well.

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As an educator for 25 years, one of the big problems I see out there are "educational programs" that are big on self-justification and not much more. Most are hardly educational in any real sense, unless you consider canned lectures or one-shot field trips to be educational. (I don't.) To have beneficial effects for kids, schools, and communities, you've got to set up long-term relationships that are built on shared goals and objectives.

We're trying to do that now. Our preschool is in the first year of a relationship with a student group at Brown University (SuFI, or the Sustainable Food Initiative) that operates a number of projects including an urban garden across the street from our school. They've been developing curriculum with 4 and 5 year olds with me and our teachers that's appropriate in terms of content, skills, and instruction. There's so much you can do with little kids and gardens involving core language, science, math, physical development, and organizational skills. In addition, mud, stink, water, heft, sun, weariness, and dirt are remarkable instructional vehicles for kids who don't learn so well sitting in rooms with pencils and chairs. We just started so I don't know how it's going to go -- student initiatives are notoriously hard to maintain, of course -- but I can describe it here if that would be useful.

I have a lot to say about this particular subject and it's dear to my heart, but most of what I'd have to say would be particular to my school. As with many things, the devil is in the details here, so probably the best way for you to start is to sit down with the school(s), district(s), or community(ies) you wish to serve and ask them what "good educational programs" are and do. Expect to engage in a lot of things that aren't related to local, organic farming: transportation issues, training of instructors in instructional methods and design, insurance, funding, converting jaded teachers, program (not farm!) sustainability, oversight, etc.

ETA things to that list at the end!


Edited by chrisamirault (log)

Chris Amirault

camirault@eGstaff.org

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Sir Luscious got gator belts and patty melts

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Thanks djyee and Chris. This is good gouge.

Chris, your list of concerns matches mine. One shot field-trips can be useful, but they're certainly not enough. My view is that the bulk of programming would have to be off the farm and in town someway -- a school or community center. Of course, there are hurdles in offering "help" to anyone who may not be looking for it.

Particulars are useful, so please pass them on!


Bridget Avila

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I've been working with a friend on a similar project. It is actually geared more toward entertainment than education, but children learn a great deal through play.

His strategy has been to start small (in order to insure success, kid's aren't patient) then build from year to year. Much like establishing a farm.

Will report back things that did or did not work as we go forward.

Near and dear to me as well. I learned more in the garden with my Dad than I did in some more structured educational environments.

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I agree with Chris, merely hauling kids to a one-time field trip isn't going to do it. Occasionally my farm's newsletter tells the rest of us about their kids' programs. The kids are taught a great deal in the classroom & then when they go on the field trip it becomes real to them. One year the newsletter quoted a Q & A session with some kids at the farm, & those kids could answer questions that I couldn't!

So it seems that coordination with classroom instruction is very important.

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Bavila: check out what our friends are doing at Live Earth Farm: they are a working family farm (CSA, farmers market, etc.) (just like our own family farm) and they've hired an educational coordinator. They have long term relationships with 1-2 schools and do multiple field trips, classroom visits (I think) and even overnights (I think). Their coordinator might be willing to talk with you. I don't know!

http://www.liveearthfarm.com/

there's a link to the left about education and describes lots about what they're up to.

cheers!

-chardgirl

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Particulars are useful, so please pass them on!

It's hard to state particulars without knowing more about the context. How old are the students? What kind(s) of school(s) are we talking about? Gimme them details, and I'll try to respond with greater precision. For now, here are some general points.

First, it's best to recognize that the reason that you're planning an educational program is because both sides do not recognize the fundamental importance of the other to their own endeavors. If they did, well, you wouldn't have to create a program -- it would exist already! I can't stress how important the differences of perspective are to any planning and implementation. If you begin from the presumption that you're speaking roughly the same language and share roughly the same priorities, you're bound to run into trouble.

Please allow me to be blunt. Educators are no more nor less interested in local/organic/artisanal/sustainable farming than the average citizen. Unless you are Alice Waters, living in the San Francisco bay area, and thus can count on a sizable community willing to reflect your values back at you, you'll need to recognize that you'll be committing to work with at least a few people who eat lunch from vending machines, who think organic means "tastes bad from all that cow poop," and who will take you for a nutcase until you prove otherwise. Those educators will be prone to think that you're there to promote an environmental or political perspective with which they and the families they serve do not agree, and your lack of interest in the things that they value -- teaching kids what they need to function in the world -- will just redouble their contempt.

That's pretty pessimistic, I know. But you will always benefit if you keep in mind that you are the umpteenth person who has come down the pike with a "great idea." After all, most of the people promoting those "great ideas" didn't make any real attempt to find out whether the educators thought the ideas were any good.

That's why I'm emphasizing the early planning and consistent follow-through. One tried-and-true approach is planning backwards, getting all potentially interested parties in the room and asking, "When this is done, what exactly will we have accomplished?" Educators tend to describe success in terms of what students know and can do; non-educators promoting certain perspectives (local/organic, say) tend to describe success in terms of transmitting a particular set of beliefs or values. Hashing out the ways that those two matters are at odds is a critical part of early planning. Are you trying to crank out organic activists? teach people the science of composting? debate the global legitimacy of sustainability? convince kids that healthy food tastes good? Getting down to those brass tacks is essential. I've seen literally dozens of programs collapse months in because everyone assumed that they agreed -- and they didn't.

In early childhood education, we talk about "developmentally appropriate practice," which is just shorthand for setting instructional goals that are appropriate for the particular kids we're teaching. There are radical differences in cognitive ability, scientific reasoning, social awareness, gross and fine motor skills, and lots of other areas depending on how old kids are. Educators are going to care about whether you're taking those issues into consideration, and you'll stand out among the extra-curricular crowd if you learn a bit about the population you're trying to teach.

For example, we teach three year olds the scientific method, but it doesn't resemble what 11th graders call the scientific method. When we ask them to hypothesize about what will happen when a seed and a wet paper towel are put in a clear plastic bag, we know that "it will turn pink" is a legitimate response. Cause and effect, temperature, temporality, states of matter... these are all fundamentally invisible to most three-year-olds. But being able to state a prediction, wait, describe results, and evaluate the accuracy of a hypothesis are reasonable goals for preschoolers. By the time they're in kindergarten, we hope that their hypotheses will reflect the laws of material reality a bit more closely, but not by a whole lot!

Even if you understand the developmental continua of the children with whom you want to work, you've still got another big instructional hurdle: scheduling. Excepting adequate resources, the biggest challenge of most school administrators by far is orchestrating classroom, teacher, and student schedules, and many people who want to promote programs simply don't understand the complexity of that task. Some of the questions that are easiest to ask -- when would we do this? who is "we"? what spaces would we use? how would kids get there and back? etc. -- are the most difficult to answer. This is particularly true if you're seeking to fit the program into an existing school day, which will in most cases already be full of required curricula that cannot be reduced to fit your program. And don't think that "after school," the fantasy oasis of most program designers, is an easy solution either; all of those questions get much trickier once core staff go home, buses leave the building, and teachers want to know why you're screwing around with their rooms.

In short, the only way to pull this off is to build a truly collaborative process in which all sides are at the table, willing to talk frankly about what they'll give and what they'll get. In our program, we required the students coordinating the project to volunteer twice a week, go through training, and read up on early childhood education. Only after they'd gotten to know our school and profession were they allowed to talk to the teachers (whom they now respected) about their instructional ideas (which they now realized were far more complex than they had assumed) for our kids (whom they now perceived as the intricate, wonderful beings they are). They met in pairs with teacher teams to talk about what, when, why, where, and how, developed small steps to get started, and then worked into more complicated components over the last few weeks.

That's just the tip of the iceberg -- or the sprout poking out of the soil, I suppose. I'd be happy to provide more specific feedback about your plans, but I'd need to know a lot more. But I promise you this: if that farm develops programs that set out to meet educators where they are, then they'll be one step ahead of the game from the outset.


Chris Amirault

camirault@eGstaff.org

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Sir Luscious got gator belts and patty melts

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Chris,

Outstanding post. Thank you for an excellent description of the process.

The area I live in has several school gardens & some community gardens--at least one of the community gardens has children (I am not sure of the age range) doing most of the planning & work. The local Master Gardeners do much of the organizing & supervision--I'll have to ask a few of the MGers I know how they set things up with the schools. Maybe I should print out your response for them . . ..

azurite

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I don't have personal experience with this project here in the San Diego area, but to read the website it sounds like they're aiming high.

Yes they are -- and they're also aiming to preach to the choir. This is a perfect example of the point I'm trying to make. Here are the questions they're asking:

Have you ever visited a farm?

Would you like your children to see a real farm and to know that a carrot comes from the ground and not a plastic bag?

Would you like to keep San Diego green?

Do you want to support our local farmers and economy?

The rest of the text in the website is the same. As far as I can tell, any genuine educational content (in the sense an educator would mean it) is merely an afterthought, if that.


Chris Amirault

camirault@eGstaff.org

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Sir Luscious got gator belts and patty melts

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Chris, thanks for your thoughtful post. Insights like yours on what's gone right and what's gone wrong are most helpful.

To be honest though, I'm not even sure that working with the schools will be the first undertaking. And remember, education isn't just a school's endeavor, right? There could be programs for the general public, CSA members, intern farmers, etc. In my mind, really, the first step is developing a mission statement out of which programming can grow.

The farmer I'm working with has certain things she'd like to see funded from a nonprofit entity, but I hope to work with her to work on clarifying a vision first. In this case, I see something along the lines of:

...to raise awareness of sustainable agriculture practices and their impact on the Chesapeake Bay, to foster restoration of the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries, and to train farmers in sustainable agriculture techniques.

As for taking into consideration developmentally appropriate practice, I'm sensitive to that (though certainly not fluent) as a Pre-K Sunday school facilitator and mom of a Montessori kid (who is quite the little sous-chef with her little wavy knife, thank you very much).

Off to process this some more. Thanks everyone for the links and comments. I plan to follow up with all the farms you're mentioning.


Bridget Avila

My Blog

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Chris, thanks for your thoughtful post. Insights like yours on what's gone right and what's gone wrong are most helpful.

To be honest though, I'm not even sure that working with the schools will be the first undertaking. And remember, education isn't just a school's endeavor, right? There could be programs for the general public, CSA members, intern farmers, etc. In my mind, really, the first step is developing a mission statement out of which programming can grow.

I think that's a good point. Of course, you'll want to make sure all the right people are around the table to determine the mission, or else you'll have that preaching/choir problem again....

The farmer I'm working with has certain things she'd like to see funded from a nonprofit entity, but I hope to work with her to work on clarifying a vision first. In this case, I see something along the lines of:

...to raise awareness of sustainable agriculture practices and their impact on the Chesapeake Bay, to foster restoration of the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries, and to train farmers in sustainable agriculture techniques.

To me that sounds like two policy initiatives and an ag training program, so you'd want local/state policy types on the start-up cmte as well as whatever MD farmers' groups are around.

Good luck and do keep us posted!


Chris Amirault

camirault@eGstaff.org

eG Ethics Signatory

Sir Luscious got gator belts and patty melts

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