-by Frank Dipietrapaul, Farm to School Coordinator at CITY Center for Collaborative Learning
Imagine attending a school located on a farm from a young age. A school centered on
environmental stewardship and a connection to the earth seems like a fairy tale, doesn’t it? Yet, some of the most pressing issues facing the world today are hunger, climate change and ecological disasters. What if we could cultivate the innate connection we all have to the earth? What if we could instill values in our youth that encourages inner thinking, a down to earth perspective, and the acknowledgment that each individual is capable of making a change? So what would a day in the life be like at a Farm School?
How would we start our day? What about some work outside or in the greenhouse to get our bodies moving? We ask our youth to get up early, only to sit and listen for hours, expecting them to stay awake and motivated. Moving mindfulness is a fantastic way to make a deeper connection with what and whom you are interacting. With this morning activity, everyone can start with hands and feet on the ground touching what is important – the earth.
A farm location provides many benefits to a school’s core subjects: Earth Science, Biology and Chemistry are easily observed in real world. Large-scale, long-term studies of plant cycles are happening right outside. How do aquaponics systems work? We can measure and record data from the solarponics system on the north end of Las Milpitas Community Farm. How does the ecosystem present in composting turn food waste into food wealth? We can see it all real-time — chickens pooping on the compost pile: check! Starting projects from seed in the classroom to harvesting them outside has a powerful impact on a young person’s perspective of food; we can see the time it takes them to grow, the struggles they weather and the work required to feed a community. We can research the nutritional value of the veggies grown and decide what crops are the most wholesome for our well-being. Math is also an easy application. Instead of traditional worksheets, we can collect, record and keep data of vegetable growth, then determine and compare the rate of growth under certain conditions.
For Language Arts, students can write personal reflections of their experiences on the farm. As for learning another language, it is not only important to understand other cultures, but it broadens your perspective and prepares you for a successful future in our multi-cultural society. Las Milpitas is represented by many cultures and offers students the opportunity to engage with native speakers. These same native speakers can improve upon their own language skills, providing students an opportunity to both learn from and teach others! Art classes provide opportunities for still life portraits of plants and people encountered throughout the farm. Murals throughout Las Milpitas brighten and enliven the atmosphere.
Social Studies may be addressed by answering questions about Tucson’s food supply. What are
the socioeconomic impacts of importing/exporting produce? Being so close to the border, how is trade affected? What can be grown locally and why should we grow locally adapted varieties? Another key aspect of Social Studies is cultural. Many South American and African cultures are represented at Las Milpitas. The International Rescue Committee works with refugees who are working toward bettering our food systems and cultural diversity in Tucson. How can our school and different cultures work together to create a more bountiful community?
History aspects are boundless. We will plant native foods and learn to live off the land. What crops did indigenous peoples cultivate? We can learn their growing, eating and survival practices, learning much about how desert life has changed since those times and how ancient practices can still provide benefits in today’s society.
Most importantly, deeper aspects of education are addressed in a Farm School. Children exposed to a diversity of experiences from a young age can be very powerful. Immersion in different foods, languages and cultures leads to a holistic and open-minded worldview. The long-term effects of exposure to diversity can lead to the shifting of our own cultural understanding of our beautifully diverse world. Civil rights and social justice began with “tolerance,” thankfully, we have moved toward “acceptance” – the next step is “love.” Love of our differences and a heartfelt appreciation for what makes each and every one of us unique is the next step in our cultural evolution.
Come and see us at Las Milpitas, and imagine your students learning on the farm!
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