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Beyond agritainment

Growing interest in farming

By Andrew Rodman

When I was in elementary school, we took a class field trip to a nearby farm. I still remember the smell of hay, and the sights and sounds. It was an alternate reality to my upbringing. Though a lifetime ago, it stuck with me. Which leads to the question of how you share the vitality of your farm or community garden with the next generation. The answers can be as close as a school bus.

One of the most potent ways to impress the next generation with the dynamics and wonders of agriculture is to open up your farm to school field trips. Farm visits combine experiential learning and curriculum based connection with academic experience. While some farms offer visits for free, most should get paid fot their time. Not only is time taken out of the valuable farm day, but there is pre-visit planning and post-visit clean up to be accounted for. Fees typically range anywhere from $5- $10 per student/visitor depending on the length of the visit, which includes what is given away during the tour. It is not appropriate to turn away anyone for a lack of funds.

The real value of farm visits is in the long-term. Fostering connections with the next generation of growers and forging a lasting connection between the community and your farm. This has positive repercussions that can be unseen for years.

Planning is key

When you make the decision to open up your farm or community garden to school children, the outcome will depend on sufficient planning. Publicity, pre-trip class visits, seasonality, activities, insurance and follow-up will factor into whether the event is a success.

Avoid scheduling tours during peak season, but you want to have something interesting to see that will engage kids. Let them get their hands dirty, and plan ways that they can help you.

Getting the word out about your farm’s services can achieved through working with 4-H clubs, agricultural extension services, press releases and flyers to the target school. If you are new to this, it may take a few times before you get established and teachers will seek you out.

Invitations for farm tours should generally go out to classes two to six months in advance, for planning on the school’s part. Tapping into your local community to host farm visits does not require as much advance lead time.

Visiting the school the day prior to the farm day is recommended. Plan on a solid class period to introduce the farm systems, and answer general questions. Prep topics should stress appropriate clothing for visit day. Does anyone have allergies or sensitivities to sun or to insects? Waiver forms and permission slips should be bi-lingual.

Student name tags are important. Teachers generally provide this. Being able to say someone’s name is valuable, especially if they are acting up.

On the ground

Dru Rivers of Full Belly Farm has been hosting farm visits for 15 years, and says that one of the biggest mistakes she made in her first years of hosting educational visits was to plan each minute of the day. “There are always so many things to see and do on the farm, that strict structure is unrealistic. It’s good to leave flexibility in your schedule to reduce stress and to make sure students get enough out of their visit by spending more time on activities that really resonate with them.” Try not to over plan!

Look at your production cycles. What are the different processes that you are engaged in? Are you looking at processing, orchards? Row crops? Vegetable production? An orchard may demonstrate an apple press, or let students do a tasting. Some examples of farm visit areas of focus may be windbreaks, biodiversity, organic production methods, and CSA models. Kids can taste, pick, harvest, plant and sort.

The age of visitors is going to determine the complexity of your visit. Group size is determined by how many adults are available to help lead and supervise activities, and the age and energy level of the group. There should be one parent or chaperone per group of students. Small groups ensure that everyone gets a chance to be involved, can move around the farm and stay focused better. This is especially important when working with tools like hoes, hoses and shovels. The importance of individual participation can’t be stressed enough.

Anyone younger than eight probably won’t have the attention span for a four hour visit, so you will want to plan for a shorter one for younger age groups.

Set the farm rules ahead of time. Rules can be really basic like no running (unless permitted), and “Look before you leap, turn your brain on, think and pay attention!”

You should get an additional insurance policy for chaperones, additional parents and other volunteers. The school policy usually covers the students and school staff.

Transportation

The school generally takes care of the transportation logistics. If the school arranges for a bus, make sure there is ample room for the bus to turn around, and enough room around the bus for safe exit and entry of the students.

Curriculum connections

As important as pre-planning is, the post visit is where you can reinforce the lessons learned. 

What if the class goes next to a farmers market to see food they have seen grown being sold directly to the public? What if they meet with a grocery store produce buyer? These are important lessons.

Making the connection between curriculums like, math, geography, life and physical sciences is really easy. Don’t forget the importance of composting, harvesting, looking at biodiversity on the farm, soil and water systems.

Through the English curriculum, students can write about their visit and impressions.

What people understand they value, and what they value they protect. This is the essence of the school-to-farm connection, and the most important legacy you can participate in.

 

For more ideas, contact the Community Alliance with Family Farms, (530) 756-8518; www.caff.org.

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