Farmer-educators connect kids with food and learning

 

Last updated 7/31/2023 at 11:38am

Photo by Jerry Baldock

Sisters elementary students learn hands-on in a hoop house at Seed to Table's farm with farmer, educator, and Programs Director Hannah Joseph.

"I love it," said Programs Director Hannah Joseph on a sunny day at Seed to Table farm. Peacocks shrilled and Highland cattle mooed. She and Farm Manager Jenn Gardner sought shade after an intense several hours leading kids in activities and education on the farm (see related article, page 7).

"I love connecting everything through food," said Joseph. "I think we can all relate to food, so it's a great focal point to then talk about all kinds of subjects."

Teaching kids through hands-on activities is engaging for her. "There's so many directions we can go, whether it's about trying something new or getting comfortable in the outdoors and welcoming all the critters, not being scared of the bees or the worms. Or learning about the science of plants, or about conservation and ecology."

The breadth and depth of education that's possible in the on-farm environment is rewarding for educators as well as students. "We have a lot we can do, and I think that makes it fun for all our different educators who have different areas of focus and direction," explained Joseph.

Farmer-educator is an unusual role in the world. What does Joseph think this role can do in our community?

"One of my favorite benefits of this sort of education is that it provides an alternative learning environment," she stated. "They're totally learning things, whether they're aware of it or not. Informal education at the farm-there's less structure, it's less rigid compared to a situation where you have to sit and listen. It's exploratory.

"So if there's different styles of learners, kids can engage differently and thrive in a different environment," she concluded. "That's my favorite part."

Joseph is in her third season on the farm, engaging with students from around Central Oregon, many from Sisters School District. People think of the region as being outdoorsy and agricultural, but many kids aren't too familiar with the outdoors, farming, and gardening when they arrive.

"It depends," Joseph said. "Some kids are like, super-pros. They garden all the time, they've been coming here for years. Other kids are new to it. Last week we had two kids who had never planted something before. They got to plant!"

She especially enjoys working with Sisters Elementary School students, "where we see some of the same kids from second through fifth grade. By fifth grade, they can teach each other how to plant, and teach new students what the farm is like."

A newer addition to Seed to Table, Gardner taught her first student field trips last year.

Leading young students through learning and exploring has changed Gardner's experience of farming. "This is the fourth farm that I've worked on," she described. Her past farm jobs involved "just growing veggies, selling to markets, doing the CSA."

Seed to Table Oregon is a charitable nonprofit organization that operates a farm but also engages with other community efforts. Team members, together with students and volunteers, plant seeds, transplant seedlings, weed, hoe, mulch, and harvest-just like at other farms.

They use sustainable, natural methods to coax a surprisingly large bounty of fresh local produce from the four-acre farm, currently producing about 75,000 pounds per year and feeding 700 households per week in season.

In addition to familiar farming activities, Seed to Table zeroes in on education and food equity. Educational programs include teaching via on-farm student visits, providing food-related education at Sisters Farmers Market, and collaborating with local educators in a variety of ways.

The farm's produce is distributed to schools and food pantries for increased access to fresh food. Locals sign up for its popular produce share, which operates in the CSA style. CSA stands for community supported agriculture: in this case, a subscription-based food pick-up that allows folks to select their preferred produce directly from the farm once a week.

Additionally, the Seed to Table booth at Sisters Farmers Market sells pounds and pounds of freshly plucked veggies. The organization also runs the Market itself, providing the Market's management, leadership, and infrastructure since 2020.

Gardner appreciates the wide array of programs at Seed to Table. "The education component is really fun," she said. "It's been great to step away from field tasks for a bit, hang out with kids, and teach them about plants."

On days when she's not teaching but working on those field tasks, Gardner enjoys seeing kids on the farm and overhearing the things they say. "They've always got some funny comments, things they get excited about," she added. "Farming is pretty grueling work at times, so having that young, joyful energy around can really brighten our day."

During summer, the farm offers education programs for pre-kindergarten children and youth in grades K–8. Learn more at http://www.seedtotableoregon.org/summer-farm-camp. For educational activities at Sisters Farmers Market, drop by Fir Street Park on Sundays, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Details available at http://www.sistersfarmersmarket.com.

 

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