Farm Sprouts: Getting Agriculture Into Our Kids’ Schools

The farm can be a great place for kids of all backgrounds and all living situations to learn hands-on lessons you can’t get from a book.

by Tessa Zundel
PHOTO: Suzie's Farm/Flickr

Many families are happy to provide a “real life” education for their children in the agricultural classroom that is the farm. Each day, farm and homestead kids benefit from lessons in their schoolroom, as well as lessons in the barnyard, the fields and the milking parlor. But what about the children around us who aren’t growing up on farms and homesteads? How can we share the benefits of agriculture with our non-farming friends in a classroom setting or something similar? What can farm and homestead families do to help modern children know and appreciate where their food comes from? The following are a few ideas to ponder.

Ideas For Teachers

If you enjoy the high (albeit underpaid) calling of a school teacher or administrator, you are uniquely situated to be an advocate for agricultural education in your school. There are many, many rules and regulations, including city zoning, that can affect how much can be done at your school in the way of classroom gardens or a school beehive. The only way to know is to investigate with your principal, your school board and your PTA the possibilities of having your students participate in hands-on agricultural projects.

There are myriad benefits for students in these experiences. Modern children are typically quite disconnected from their food, having very little real idea of where their apples and oranges come from or what it takes to produce them. Modern adults struggle with this in great measure, too. From simple in-room unit studies to outdoor seed planting, your students can make their own connections to growing and eating food. You can brainstorm ideas and specifics with your governing bodies and especially your students, but the sky is the limit on all the wonderful things they’ll learn.

As an added bonus, many times these projects can generate their own income. They may start out with grant money or community donations, but over time, they can become self-sustaining with marketing the goods that are produced through these programs. That’s just what Shadow Glen Elementary in the great state of Texas did.

For The Rest Of Us

Not all of us are teachers or directly connected to the education system in our area. Many of us are just moms and dads who know the benefits of living close the land and appreciate the farmers that feed us. We also share a concern for our community’s children, especially those living in inner-city areas without direct access to farmland. Many children have parents who just lack knowledge or experience with vegetables other than French fries. The only crime in that is in allowing it to continue when there’s so much that agricultural families can do to share information about their way of life.

Tyler Bastian works at Roots High School, an inner-city farm-based charter school in Utah with a mission statement that reads:

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Roots Charter High School targets students in the greater West Valley City area and instill them with the knowledge, skills and ability to live healthy, productive and sustainable lives. Graduates are proficient in math and reading and well prepared for post-secondary education through authentic learning that develops ecological literacy, academic accomplishment, strong character, and a commitment to community.

I asked Bastian to share some suggestions as to what homestead and farm families can do to help with agricultural education in their community. He suggested the following:

  1. Be open to share your farm or homestead. Many farmers put up no trespassing signs and really want no one to visit or discover their farm. I believe if every farmer invited his neighbors and their friends to just come and see, it would make a big difference.
  2. Be open to others’ ideas. I have my opinions about many aspects of agriculture. It has become very political and divided. Allowing for open courteous exchange of ideas is important. We have vegan students that have to learn to be OK with our meat production. We have some real meat eaters that need to extend the same respect to the vegan kids. I’ve visited some agricultural schools and outdoor models that were so political and issue driven that their appeal was lost on many kids that could have benefited from the school.
  3. Sell something. I believe that every small homestead should sell something. I live on a very small lot in an urban environment, but I sell honey from the two hives that I have. It isn’t about money for me; it is about opening the conversation about where our food comes from and selling the honey helps facilitate that.
  4. Keep your homestead clean and presentable. It might seem like a small thing, but so much damage is done by not taking care of and keeping our properties clean. When people see that everything from pigs to chickens can be kept and raised in a clean, presentable way they are more supportive of us as neighbors.
  5. Make it fun. Raise fun animals. Grow vegetables and fruits that are fun. We grew pumpkins for our students, and even though they weren’t the most practical or beneficial things to grow for our school, the students had fun with it. They could quickly see the fruit of their labors. The school had a lot of tomatoes and other vegetables that were more beneficial financially for the school, but the pumpkins were well received. We also have an assortment of animals. Most are for production but having some that are just for the experience has been very beneficial for the school.

These are simple things that you and I can do today that will eventually open dialog about agriculture in our area and help us establish connections with our community. The best way to get farming education into our schools is to get the community inspired and involved.

Ag Programs Already In Place

Not to be forgotten are programs like 4-H and FFA, of course. These programs are established and are great assets to the farm education in their communities. They’re not just for children who want to grow up and become production farmers, either! They give children the opportunity to learn a wide range of skills. If you are involved in these groups, talk them up to your friends and invite them to participate.

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