The Farm as a Classroom
I still remember the exact moment when it hit me. I was in my second year of college, dutifully plodding through my undergrad courses, ultimately bound for an elementary education degree.
The moment had to do with observing 35 kids crammed in a classroom built for 20, a frazzled teacher, and Halloween scarecrow art projects still plastering the walls. (Did I mention it was May?) All of a sudden, with striking clarity, I knew it in my soul – I did not want to be a teacher.
After college, I grabbed the first administrative job that came to me and reveled in my newfound world of wearing heels and negotiating television ads. I never had a single “what could have been” moment regarding teaching. Good riddance, I thought.
Fast forward a few years and I am on the Polyface Farm team, after following a curiosity for how food is raised and watching that curiosity snowball before my very eyes.
You’re good with kids, people on the farm kept saying. You’re a natural.
I fought it for awhile. No I would not, could not, should not become a teacher. But when people say you are good at something, how can you not listen?
I’m the luckiest girl in the world to work with people who want to know what you are good at, what makes you tick, where you are going in life, and how they can help get you there. And that’s how the Polyface Grass Stain Tours were born. There was space in the business for me to start marketing farm tours for school-age kids, and the result has been roughly 25 tours annually to students in kindergarten through high school.
Oh. So teaching doesn’t have to involve desks and four walls?
I resisted formal education because, generally, there was only one learning style being catered to – sitting and memorizing. Since starting the tour program, I’ve discovered that my favorite part of education is helping kids make connections in their world, in their own ways. And the great thing about that? It can happen anywhere!
A farm proves to be a great classroom. My favorite story about kids making connections is when I was taking a group of third graders around the farm. We approached the Eggmobile, our egg-layer structure that allows the hens to free range and clean up the pasture after the cows. A little boy, confusion written all over his face, shoved an egg up towards me, asking, “what’s inside this egg? Is it a baby chick, or scrambled eggs?” I was delighted by the question and it prompted a great conversation with the students.
With family farms on the decline, and countless industrial farms that aren’t exactly visitor-friendly, kids these days don’t have a solid concept of what farming is – or what raising food entails before it gets to the grocery store. Growing up in the mid-1980’s, my only concept of a farm was from my Fisher-Price Little People farm play set – you know, the one with the plastic silo, the rotund little farmer, and the chicken who was oddly the same size as the farmer… this was what introduced me to the idea of “farming.”
So when kids come for a tour at Polyface, I give them lots of information about our methods and how they differ from industrial models. But I also know that beyond any facts I can give them, we’re providing them with a new visual understanding of what farming can be. If ten years down the road, something jogs a memory and they think back to a farm they visited where they had pigs in the woods, or laying hens following cows, and this causes them to start asking questions of conventional agriculture, well then – I guess I have become a teacher after all.
What are some other fun ways to introduce kids to real food and where it comes from?
Photo Credit: Craig McCord
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