The proposed project included education and hands-on training of Junior High students and teachers in food production with an emphasis on conservation of natural resources. An experienced local farmer specializing in restoration agriculture spent one farming cycle training students and staff. The goal was to expand local food production and facilitate hands-on knowledge of environmental stewardship. Each week, classroom lessons were augmented by landwork that supported academic lessons.
Farmer and educator, Theri Niemier from Bertrand Farm, was hired by Good Shepherd Montessori School (GSMS) to teach two semesters of agriculture classes to Jr. high students and faculty and extend the school’s urban farming environment. In addition to the educational objectives of the project (i.e., student/parent/staff applied farm and environmental education), another objective was to position GSMS to be competitive for an NCR-SARE R&E grant proposal as a follow on from the current project.
Educational & Outreach Activities
1.GSMS Jr. High Students and Teachers participated, over the course of two semesters, in weekly agriculture classes on Tuesday or Thursday from 9 a.m. - 11:30 a.m. held with farmer and educator Theri Niemier, from Bertrand Farm.
2. Classroom hours included educational Power Point presentations, readings, video and YouTube viewing, and demonstrations to introduce themes and practices of sustainable farming including:
" Agriculture Systems that harvest sun and sequester carbon with a focus on Permaculture design
" Water Conservation
" Perennial and annual farming.
" Irrigation - water capture
" Crop rotation
" Composting/ Compost tea/Vermiculture
" No till Philosophy
" Cover crops
" Seed saving of heirloom and open pollinated seeds
" Season Extension Fall and Spring
" Preserving produce
2. Students worked on the GSMS landscape during class hours to increase their farm production from 1/10 acre to 1-acre intensive fruit and vegetables production.
3. Students helped design and install a 1000-gallon rainwater capture system.
4. Students helped design and install a 16' X 20' hoop house for seed season extension practices.
5. GSMS Jr. High Students lead landscape tours to showcase water capture designs as part of their Sustainability Seminar on Water held in May 2017.
6. Students set up and run two composting systems for lunch room waste including a three-part outdoor composting bin and two vermiculture bins for indoor use. Both systems use lunchroom waste and recycle carbon in the form of shredded paper from the school administration offices. Jr. High Students run both systems by including this work as part of the daily chore rotations. Students have used castings from vermiculture to fertilize raised bed gardens during this project.
7. Four morning workshops, open to the larger community, were held on the GSMS landscape during the project timeline. Two Spring workshops on Saturday mornings, focused on expanding gardens both annual and perennial and installing a rain water capture system. We have installed five 275-gallon tanks for rainwater capture total.
8. Two Fall workshops included construction of the 16' X 20' hoop house frame, designed by students, and adding 100 feet of rain capturing swales for irrigation of expanded food production areas including annual and perennial gardens.
9. Social Media has been an ongoing form of communication between Jr. High Students and the greater school community. Students have, and will continue to make weekly blogs to share learnings and practical applications of their agriculture education and work to the greater community and also weekly news bites are included in the school new bulletin.
GSMS Jr. High Students and Teachers participated in 24 restoration agriculture themed classes over two semesters. Weekly classes on Tuesday or Thursday from 9 a.m. – 11:30 a.m. included indoor learning followed by outdoor applications on the school grounds. Classroom hours included educational Power Point presentations, readings, video and YouTube viewing, and demonstrations to introduce themes and practices of sustainable farming with emphasis on conservation of nature including:
- Agriculture Systems that harvest sun and sequester carbon with a focus on Permaculture design
- Water Conservation
- Perennial and annual farming.
- Irrigation – water capture
- Crop rotation
- Composting/ Compost tea/Vermiculture
- No till Philosophy
- Cover crops
- Seed saving of heirloom and open pollinated seeds
- Season Extension Fall and Spring
- Preserving produce
Outdoor work included expanding food production from 1/10 of an acre to 1-acre intensive fruit and vegetable production. With the help of our greater community during over four scheduled workshops on Saturday mornings, we included installing a rain capture system for irrigation, creating a compost system for fertility and adding a small hoop house structure for season extension.
Students gained a clear understanding of what industrial agriculture is and how it compares to restoration agriculture. They now understanding the relationship that agriculture has to health, personal and environmental and the interconnected relationship thereof. Students have shown a proficiency, measured by testing, of understanding the role of plant life, especially perennial plants, in sequestering carbon and contributing to environmental restoration.
Work from the project was incorporated into presentations at the junior high’s annual academic conference that was held in 2017 at Good Shepherd Montessori School. The theme of the conference was “water”. It is estimated that between 50 – 75 members of the wider community were in attendance.
Good Shepherd has always had an emphasis on environmental education through farm work; however, this project significantly boosted the presence of environmental education on the GSMS campus. It has been an important step in building a strong, dynamic urban farm environment and has brought students, parents, and administrators together to pursue this mission.
Several parents have commented on student learnings and dinner table conversation as a direct result of this project. One lesson stands out; The student suggested to her family that they discontinue eating cereals for breakfast as a recent lesson on food miles indicated her family’s choice in cereal was environmentally expensive and lacked nutrition. The student went on to spread the word about food miles and transportation costs that food have, often unrelated to the actual dollar prices. As a result, her parent reports looking at alternative breakfast choices including more whole foods and shopping at the local farmers market.