PROJECT DESCRIPTION AND RESULTS
The Harvest Learning Initiative was a one semester high school course with summer responsibilities that incorporated leadership, business planning and sustainable gardening. In addition to the educational benefits and sustainable life skills derived from the course, students earned money from their produce business as well as gave back to their community through food donations to charity. The entire course schedule is attached, but specifically, we educated about sustainable agriculture in several ways:
1 – With the grant money, we purchased both “King Corn” and “Food, Inc” movies. Both were shown and we had the students complete discussion questions and we had significant discussion about sustainable agriculture.
2 – Through the grant, we also were able to invite growers representing (1) organic, (2) sustainable, and (3) conventional (corn and soybeans) come to the class and answer the following questions:
– Why did you decide to go into farming?
– Why do you farm sustainably?
– Why do you select the produce you are growing?
– How much does your labor and machinery cost?
– What price do you get for your produce?
– What do you do to the soil to grow your produce?
– What problems do you have with your particular type of farming?
– What are the benefits associated with this type of farming?
– Do you want to continue farming? If so, why? If not, why not?
– What does the future of farming look like?
Following these interviews, we discussed why we were going to grow our vegetables sustainably.
We had a field trip which included a visit to a local sustainable farmer who showed the students his growing practices which included using crop rotation and organic fertilizers.
There were class sessions on how to grow vegetables sustainably and pesticide/chemical free.
Lastly, an educator from the USDA’s Water Soil and Conservation District taught three sessions in the course about how to treat the soil sustainably, and they learned more about crop rotation and composting.
We were not involved in teaching students about sustainable agriculture prior to this course. The Harvest Learning Initiative was a pilot course at New Prairie HS.
The three primary goals, thus course focus, for the course were to teach about leadership, business, and sustainable gardening. The following represents what we did in each of the areas.
The leadership component reflected those skills that were needed to successfully execute the business plan and work collaboratively as a team, and therefore included presentation and listening skills, team collaboration, conflict management, an ability to both encourage and support teammates, and to be effective in communication – both written and presentation. There were several ways that students’ leadership skills will be evaluated including peer assessments, customer assessments, and the business community judge assessment.
The students operated a business, which was to sell produce from their garden that they planted, cultivated and harvested. An agreed upon percentage of the produce went to a local charity. Of the remaining produce sold, some monies go back into the program to buy seeds/plants for the next year, and the remainder was a profit share among the students.
The students learned about what a business plan is and how to develop one. They were divided into three teams (based on their personality style as previously determined by the Colors Inventory) representing three types of customers: (1) restaurant owner; (2) grocery store; and (3) institution. The class heard presentations from, and asked questions of, representatives of those three customer types. They then developed their written business plan, which demonstrated a keen listening of their customer, collaboration, creativity, professionalism and persuasiveness in their writing, and practicality in terms of execution. After completion of the written plan, they converted it to a presentation. Each of the three teams gave their draft presentation first in a practice session to the business faculty. Following any changes/recommendations to the plan, the teams then gave their formal presentation to a panel of judges comprised of business community members. The judges asked questions of the three teams, and judges used a matrix to determine the winning team.
The winning team was announced and the other two teams joined so the three teams became one serving the winning customer’s team.
Students had sessions on conventional, sustainable and organic gardening (as well as a field trip to a local farm) to understand pros/cons as well the reasoning behind their decisions to farm using those methods. Course content regarding the green revolution and why we need to think about the food we eat – from the perspectives of health, economics, population, and food sovereignty will be discussed.
Students had class sessions on soil composition and treatment through USDA Soil Water and Conservation District teachers. Additional curriculum will involve why farmland is disappearing. Classes on growing vegetables including conditions needed, pest control, will be offered on the agreed upon vegetables to be delivered to the customer. They will then plan their garden and plant.
Health Curriculum includes sessions on eating simple whole foods and getting away from processed, food lab sessions where students prepare and taste simple whole foods; obesity and nutrition-related diseases, media/peer pressure and its impact on their food choices. Students kept a food diary throughout the course with an analysis on how their eating habits changed at the end of the course.
The summer was spent executing the business plan – growing, tending vegetables and delivering to the customers.
One of the premises of the course was collaboration between and among teachers in the high school as well as utilizing the vast resources of the community itself. The high school was extremely pleased that three teachers representing expertise in health/nutrition, science and business collaborated in the teaching of the course. The community also willingly gave of their expertise to the course and this portion of the strategy was considered a huge success as the community was thrilled to participate and the students benefitted greatly.
We wanted to start with leadership skills as they would need to be reminded of them throughout the course as conflicts arose, or teams had any difficult situations. We believed this was the right choice. It also allowed the students to bond through their leadership training in meaningful ways. Team building in the classroom (as opposed to only experiencing this in sports) was a powerful experience for the students. We also decided early on to present “context” so the different growers presented early as well as the viewing of “King Corn.”
The second month of the course was dedicated to learning business plans. As they were already in teams and there was something they could apply this to (their competition and ultimately their garden), the business faculty thought they were more attentive than when teaching this content in theory only. We also had an external pricing expert teach as well. This month the potential “customers” came representing the local restaurant, institution and grocery store, so again –the concept was very real to the students.
The third month was focused on how to present themselves and translate their written plan into a presentation which they practiced many times before ultimately to the business judges. The leadership skills previously learned were critically necessary as only one team won and the other two had to get behind the new team. This was hard for students this age (sophomores and juniors), but the skills they learned previously helped tremendously.
The fourth and fifth months were devoted to learning about soil, vegetables, and planting outside. They took seriously servicing the customer and had spent much time discussing how hard they were going to work in order to service the customer. Planting, tending and harvesting was exciting to them as this was the culmination of their learning and hard work. Putting together a summer schedule given their work and family responsibilities was challenging, but they were motivated.
Many people helped to make this course possible. Though it was the concept of Ms. Jannsen, Director of Shawnash Institute, Inc., she could not have done this alone. Mrs. Kauffman, New Prairie HS faculty spent many, many hours contributing content and ideas to develop and teach the course. Mr. Spier and Mr. Bolakowski, also New Prairie HS faculty, contributed teaching time and many of their ideas as well. Leadership LaPorte County (Mr. Jim Jessup and Ms. Elena Mrozinske) taught three classes and UIC professor, Dr. Gloria Nardini taught a full day of presentation skills. Mrs. Nicole Messacar of the USDA Water, Soil and Conservation District taught three sessions on soil, composting and crop rotation and was invaluable in her counsel on soil issues. Other community experts who contributed teaching included the following growers: Mr. Bernie Baltes- conventional farming (who also provided manure), Cathy and Doug Atherton (organic farming), and Gene Baughman (sustainable farming). Additionally, Lisa Jaworski (local food pantry), James Paarlberg (donated onion sets), Tim Brunt (taught about pricing). Lastly, the following were our “customers” who taught the students about produce quality and customer service: Jennie Rae Baltes (Jennie Rae’s Restaurant), Keith Peffers (Purdue North Central), Carol and Joe Laureys (Groceries by Joe). Community judges who are donating their time include: Dawn Krueger, Craig Langhofer, Jason Flagg, and Joel Bazzell, Todd Dickard and Greg Dudeck. Mr. Greg Dudek and his grounds staff also prepared the garden (tilling, fences, hoses).
The students learned that growing sustainably is ecologically sound through their many classes from growers and about soil. They also had a session on hunger, visited a Food Bank and donated to a local food pantry, so they learned social responsibility as well.
Harvest Learning Initiative was a pilot course targeted at students who were interested for a variety of reasons. Some had a garden and wanted to learn more; some were interested in leadership; some in business; and some in giving back to the community. At the end, they learned all of these things. We wanted to provide a real hands-on course that taught these skills but involved the community.
The students were measured in the following ways: pre/post test, food diary entries, attendance, business plan (written), presentation of business plan to community judges, monthly abstracts on topics related to the focus of the month (leadership, business, presentation skills, soil, hunger). Abstracts were due the last class day of each month. The business plan was due the end of February, 2010; the presentation was given the end of March, 2010. Food diaries and abstracts for April and May continued with a final grade at the end of May. Students were expected to work in the garden during June and July, growing, tending, harvesting and selling to their customer. Only students who participated in this work were able to profit share.
First year gardens are problematic, so the yield, thus profit, was not as much as they hoped, but all felt it to be an incredibly rewarding experience to participate.
Many, many things were learned from this project. First, it is possible to combine multiple disciplines/faculty in a project (health, career, science and business faculty collaborated). This was long a model the HS wanted to implement in that regard.
Second, we treated the students as adults in terms of their thinking. They debated many points (pros/cons of convention vs. organic vs. sustainable farming; presence of hunger as some students were suspicious as these people “looked normal”, etc.).
They learned how difficult, yet rewarding, it is to have a garden.