Students learn hands-on at farm

 

Last updated 7/4/2023 at 2:18pm

Photo by Jerry Baldock

Lettuce, stewardship, and Highland cattle are part of the on-farm experience for LifeSkills students at Seed to Table.

On a recent day at Seed to Table's farm in Sisters, long-haired Highland cattle ambled through their pasture. The sun shone brightly. The shrieking of peacocks pealed over the landscape. Then came the students, with wheelbarrows full of treats.

Student Stefani Kampert mused, "I feel like it's really nice out here." She and other LifeSkills students plucked lettuce out of the soil in a greenhouse, dropping them into buckets. Then, along with their adult helpers, they heaped the lettuce into overflowing wheelbarrows.

These were wheeled down to the cows and steers. Students flung the lettuce into the cattle's pasture, or fed them by hand over the fence. With long horns and flowing locks of hair, "the cattle are very cute, very hairy," said Kampert.

The LifeSkills program serves students with special needs, "working to expand students' abilities academically, socially, vocationally, and emotionally," according to Sisters School District materials.

Teachers Berit Dart at Sisters Middle School and Josh Nordell at Sisters High bring youth from both schools together for various activities, including Seed to Table field trips.

"We're giving kids an opportunity, after they've already spent a good chunk of their day being in a classroom-doing some pretty high-demand, sometimes low-reward things-to come out and work on some vocational skills," Dart explained.

He values that the program allows students to experience "being outside, being around some really awesome people."

A student approached. "Are you being interviewed?" he asked.

"I wanna be on TV!" hollered Kampert from afar. "I wanna be a star!"

After chatting with them, Dart returned to the conversation. "The farm's just been tremendous, what it does for the LifeSkills program, the kids, and the teachers too," he enthused.

"The kids are learning about sustainability because they do it really well out here at Seed to Table," Dart noted. "They're learning about environmental stewardship."

Hannah Joseph is programs director for Seed to Table. "With LifeSkills students, we work with their teachers to get all the kids engaged and involved," she said. "They all have varying abilities and interests."

Educators focus on activities that give students a sense of accomplishment while providing job training. "And they're outside, getting things done," said Joseph. "It helps us out a lot in the process."

Joseph noted that "mulching, pulling up plants that are finished harvesting, putting stickers on bags for wholesale: these activities are really good for these students. They know where to get the wheelbarrow, where to get the shovel."

Joseph explained that where in a school setting it might be difficult to give students autonomy, at the farm they develop independent skills for specific tasks.

"They can gain mastery over the tasks, and be the leaders," she explained.

LifeSkills students come out to the farm one hour weekly during appropriate seasons, typically late spring and autumn.

The middle school LifeSkills teacher, Dart, expressed appreciation that Seed to Table also provides resources for projects on school grounds. Together with teacher Judy Fuentes and the Sources of Strength program, "we're trying to revive the gardens at the middle school right now; they got taken over by goldenrod during Covid," he explained.

He paused while a student ran up, bringing the teacher a "lettuce lollipop" to chew on.

"Seed to Table has been a huge part of our community at the school," concluded Dart.

The farm is run by a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, Seed to Table Oregon, founded in Sisters ten years ago by Sisters High graduate Audrey Tehan.

Education lies at Seed to Table's core. Its four-acre farm hosts over 1,500 student visits for hands-on education every year. Various student cohorts learn a variety of subjects: growing, farming, compost science, plant biology, and food systems among them. LifeSkills, as developed with the program's Sisters School District teachers, has a vocational focus.

In addition to educating students, Seed to Table manages Sisters Farmers Market, and grows and distributes fresh produce. Each week in season, some 700 people access the farm's bounty through multiple access points. Many locals pick up Seed to Table's freshly grown food at the farm once a week as part of a produce share program.

Others buy from the Seed to Table booth at the Farmers Market, which takes place every Sunday at Fir Street Park through the end of September. Currencies including SNAP/EBT and DUFB (Double Up Food Bucks) are accepted by the Market's qualifying farm, ranch, and food vendors. Details are available at the Market's info booth each Sunday.

Produce grown at Seed to Table also finds its way to tables around Sisters Country through community partners. Facilitating a more equitable distribution of fresh food, these partners include food pantries, schools, Kiwanis Food Bank, Family Access Network, and Wellhouse Market.

To learn more, visit seed totableoregon.org online. For information about special programs in Sisters School District, see ssd6.org.

 

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