At the time this funding was awarded, CROPS and the original project coordinator had just started youth agriculture projects with Mickle Middle School, but the activities were quite limited in comparison to what they are now, two years later.
Educational Farm School field trips and curriculum. Farm School will bring Lincoln, Nebraska youth to Sunset Community Farm for educational days, with hands-on activities at every session; topics will concern a certain feature of agriculture–from beekeeping and weed management to harvesting vegetables.
We worked with a number of different organizations to recruit youth tour groups. This included local schools, Girl Scouts, a summer youth program and various after school programs.
The two largest groups of young people who came out to the farm include the entire kindergarten class from Prescott School, which was over 100 students plus a dozen teachers and parents. In addition, we had a summer Family Service program that brought out 240 kids in four different groups over the course of the summer.
To actually carry out the tours, we needed to organize the activities, prepare the tour schedule, and line up tour guides, volunteers, and staff members. Key lessons included being flexible and prepared. For example, some groups came out on very hot days, and though we had asked them to bring water, they hadn’t, so we needed to have water available and activities ready that could be done in the shade.
The intention behind the Farm Tours was to expose youth to the dynamics of sustainable agriculture and show them that food, nature, and health are more closely connected, more then they might realize. We wanted to emphasize that taking care of the environment is connected to taking care of yourself. That the food that they eat and are exposed to in their daily lives comes from the earth. We showed them first hand, food growing in the field, bugs and pollinators contributing to production, and how human’s choices impact the systems involved. We chose the tour as a means to exposure and education because we felt it the best way for the youth to truly understand and make the connections that we describe in the classroom. Showing pictures, reading, and presenting on a topic helps instill the concepts, but exposing students in the field where they can see, touch, taste and smell makes a larger impact on them for the long term. Seeing the excitement in the students eyes and the interest in their voices demonstrated to us that this is a very meaningful experience for the youth and was effective in getting our message to them.
The farm staff assisted in setting up the activities at the events, helped provide tours of the farm, and helped run the activity booths. Farm staff also brought the expertise and knowledge of the farm, the crops planted, and the daily labor involved in maintaining the farm.
Teachers, parents, and youth staff brought the students and youth out to the farm and served as leaders to the groups. They participated in the activities with the youth, helped them along the way, and learned from the tour themselves. They were an integral part of the tours in that they provided structure to the youth and the groups making the tour a success.
The Farm Tours targeted youth of various ages in the Lincoln community. We wanted to reach a variety of age groups and organizations to diversify our audience so that the knowledge and experience could be shared by all. Students, parents, and educators participating in the tours were educated on the connection between the environment, farming, and a sustainable way of life. The students were exposed visually as well as physically to a sustainable farm and were able to understand the difference between that and conventional agriculture, which they are exposed to more often. They were taught that there are alternatives to large scale mono-culture and chemical applications in agriculture and were shown what that looks like in a real life application of organic sustainable farming. The tours served as a great connection to the concept of environmental stewardship in agriculture on a working sustainable farm.
We learned that just coming to the farm is enough and we don’t need to overload with activities for students to do. Kids learn by observing and touching, we should have had them spend more time just being outdoors, enjoying the farm and observing. We also learned that some of the fun activities that weren’t necessarily learning objectives, such as sack races, are important as well. These worked well for the kids because it gives them a feel for a simpler way of life on farms and entertainment without the technology they are used to.
Youth on the tour showed a lack of knowledge of this type of agriculture system and a level of excitement that demonstrated to us the need of this type of education. We expected that the youth would have little exposure to sustainable agriculture and we hoped that being on the farm and interacting with nature and the outdoors would spur their excitement and interest. In that aspect, we were correct and it reinforced the need to continue conducting the tours in the future.
We will make changes to the future Farm Tours in that we will let exploration of the Farm be our main activity and let the children learn with less pressure to complete activities. Focusing on the tour will require more emphasis on the tour guides and use of their knowledge and expertise in educating on sustainable agriculture.
During the project, we shared stories with our supporters through the CROPS Facebook page and e-newsletter. We also have recently completed a youth program brochure and included farm tours as an option for groups to consider as a way to get involved with the program and help young people learn about sustainable agriculture. At our annual Farm Walk, an open house for families to visit our training farm site, we also provided some of the same activities to encourage more people to sign up for tours. Information is posted on the CROPS website on how people can book tours and the various options involved.
Overall, we had a great experience with the grant. Joan Benjamin was a great reasource for us whenever we had questions, and the instructions were simple and easy to follow. The overall reporting requirements and fiscal management for this project were in line with the grant award. The only minor challenge was getting things arranged so that the funds could be dispersed to us as an oragnization rather than directly to the individual youth coordinator.