The Farm as a Classroom
In the small city of Hamburg, Iowa, students at Marnie Simons Elementary School are given a unique opportunity. Along with their usual classes, they can also watch over a duck and chicken house, care for a baby lamb, and tend to a garden. Their working farm was developed through several grants and carried out with the help of the school’s teachers. There are plans to include livestock and the production of cheese and eggs. Students are able to experience the ups and downs of life on a genuine farm, and are far better off for it.
Working on a farm offers very valuable lessons that the urban world of a classroom is not capable of providing. Whether you are on a family farm, the family farm of a friend, or pursuing farming through a program, doing so is a great way to supplement your existing education. But prepare for a drastically different lifestyle from what you are used to. The homes tend to be older and simpler. The work involves many hours of physical labour and can be very exhausting. This is often quite a shock for city dwellers.
Lessons abound from the many tasks at hand. Crops do not always turn out the way you want, and animals do not always survive as long as expected. Dealing with these losses and disappointment teaches perseverance. It is never clear what the harvest will be like from year to year. This helps you to plan for the future in a very practical way, unlike theoretical situations in a textbook. When there is a large yield of food, many farmers will share with those who are less fortunate. In those times, being charitable provides great lessons about the privilege of having more than you need and how using that good fortune to help others can enrich your community.
In Nova Scotia, the importance of farming is integrated in the school curriculum for elementary school students. The Agriculture and Food Education office often visits classrooms to display chick hatching, types of soil, and other elements of the farming world. Farmers and agrologists (agrology examines the application of science to agriculture) come to schools to share stories about farm life. The Nova Scotia Cultural Agricultural Awareness Committee offers funding for class projects such as field trips, hosting local food events, and more. The Cole Harbour Farm Heritage Museum hosts the Farmer for a Day event every September, in which students get to engage in activities on a real farm, including grading Christmas trees.
By having students performing farm work, they have the chance to handle animals and crops instead of just reading about them. They get to make mistakes and learn from those errors. Students get physical activity beyond the gym and can build endurance and strength. It becomes clear just how difficult it is to bring food from the earth to our kitchen tables. When we live in cities from birth, it is easy to forget the natural world from whence we all came. The ingredients for meat, vegetables, bread, and so on require great work to acquire and cultivate. You can read extensively about it, but you can only fully appreciate it by seeing it in person and tackling the process hands on.
Farms are a very different world from the classrooms you are likely used to. This different realm comes with its own unique challenges and its own distinctive learning opportunities. By helping out at a family farm or the family farm of a friend, or taking advantage of programs offered by your school or your community, you can discover this world for yourself.
Iowa Farmer Today. “Elementary school engages students with working farm.” http://www.iowafarmertoday.com/news/regional/elementary-school-engages-students-with-working-farm/article_de3cb982-0bfb-11e6-84e4-a77f18911aab.html
Lewis, Kara. “Do it well or not at all: 10 lessons learned from life on the farm.” FamilyShare. https://familyshare.com/2220/do-it-well-or-not-at-all-10-lessons-learned-from-life-on-the-farm
Nova Scotia Canada. “School Programs: Elementary.” https://novascotia.ca/agri/programs-and-services/educational-resources/school-programs/elementary/
Women on the Road. “Working on a Farm.” http://www.women-on-the-road.com/working-on-a-farm.html