Are you looking to connect your Farm to School program with more community partners? The C.R.A.F.T program at Woodstock Union High School did just that during a recent visit to Sunrise Farm in Hartford, Vermont. When planning community connections, here are a few ideas to consider:
- Prepare learning goals in advance and share them with your community partner.
- Make it hands-on! What will students be doing?
- Make it reciprocal!
Prepare and share learning goals in advance:
When students from Woodstock Union High School’s C.R.A.F.T program visited Sunrise Farm on a snowy day in November, they had a mission. Their science teacher, Vanessa Cramer, shared the following questions to guide their learning:
- What connections can you make between what you see and hear at the farm and the topic of food security that you have been studying in Wellness and Social Studies?
- What connections can you make between what you see and hear at the farm and carbon, the carbon cycle or carbon footprints?
- What else is interesting that you saw or heard at the farm? Why do you think it is interesting? What will you take away and remember from this field trip?
Prior to the visit, Kat Robbins, Place-Based Education Coordinator at Woodstock Union High School, reached out to Trevor Lohr, Animal Manager at Sunrise Farm, to share those learning goals, and develop the agenda.
“I outlined the broader goals of food security and the carbon cycle that the 9th grade was looking for at this time, and then Sammy and Vanessa, our Science teachers, hopped in with specific standards and learning goals, along with context of what students have already learned. We went back and forth a bit, building off Trevor’s extensive knowledge and passion to refine the agenda.”
Science teachers Vanessa and Sammy were also intentional about how students would apply their learning when they returned to the classroom. Vanessa shared:
“This was a kickoff for our carbon unit. Hopefully this will help us ground our unit in the real world and help the carbon cycle be less abstract for students. Now that we have this field trip as a foundation, we can weave aspects of regenerative agriculture into our unit in a meaningful way. Sammy and I (Vanessa) have talked about how to be hopeful around carbon because students hear so many negative things about it. However there are many opportunities around us to sequester carbon in meaningful ways that can serve our community and connect us to the land. Hopefully we can help students to see that.”
Make it hands-on!
While at the farm, students had the opportunity to work with Trevor Lohr, Sunrise Farm’s Animal Manager and Jen Murphy from Willow Tree Community Compost, to mix food scraps collected from around the community with wood chips from the farm, into the hot compost pile. As students learned about the important balance between nitrogen (food scraps), and carbon (wood chips), they mixed the ingredients together.
When the mixture is just right, a hot compost pile can create optimal temperatures between 135 – 160 degrees Fahrenheit even on a snowy winter day! Students helped Trevor log the temperature of the compost pile, which at ~180 degrees Fahrenheit was too hot, and adjustments to the carbon nitrogen balance needed to be made. Students were able to connect the hands-on experience to their classroom learning, and one student shared:
“When at the large compost piles, we learned that nutrients are cycled in the decomposition process and when the compost is used to plant new things, which creates compost that is usable for new life so there is less waste in the world. The nutrients from the old food in the pile are cycled to make new food.”
These hands-on experiences will become the foundation of future learning opportunities back at school. Science teacher Vanessa explains those connections:
“We have 3 lab activities connected to the carbon cycle that we plan to do in this unit to keep it active so we will be evaluating their investigation skills. However, experiments are only meaningful if they have some context or if students can explain why the experiments matter. So we will also have students craft claims and defend them about the importance of carbon in our landscape and the best ways that we can store it. “
Make it reciprocal!
Community partnerships are powerful ways to enhance student learning, and support Farm to School curriculum. Farming is hard work, and while many farmers are more than happy to share their expertise and connect with students, it is important to look for ways to build a reciprocal relationship with your partners. What will you share with them? How can both of you invest time and energy to create a mutually beneficial relationship? To support their partnership with Sunrise Farm, Kat Robbins shared that:
We are providing a stipend to Sunrise/Willow Tree out of a grant we obtained with a line item for ‘consulting’. Students are also writing thank you notes, and we’d be happy to help promote their CSA if needed!
Building community partnerships is a wonderful way to enhance student learning experiences and strengthen your Place-Based Education programs. As you go about developing new partnerships, remember to share your learning goals in advance, make it hands-on, and prioritize reciprocal relationships.