Engaging Youth in Sustainable Agriculture through Hands-on Experience
We kicked off the project in mid-September with a visit to Jeff and Rachel Barry’s farm in Douglas County, Missouri. The Barrys practice many sustainable agriculture techniques on their 17-acre farm where they grow a wide variety of fruits and vegetables and raise heritage breed pigs, laying hens, and Dexter and Jersey cattle.
We toured the Barry’s two high tunnels and outdoor gardens where they grow tomatoes, peppers, basil, rhubarb, potatoes, blueberries, hops, strawberries, leeks, garlic and many other crops. The students learned how different crops grow at different times of year, and we discussed which vegetables could be planted now and grown through the winter. We saw the chickens, pigs, and cows and learned how they provide fertility and food while utilizing garden waste and plants that humans can’t eat. Jeff explained how they conserve resources by using solar energy to pump and heat water, and using hand tools rather than gas powered machines. The students also learned about composting, mulching, beneficial insects, cover crops, no till gardening, crop and livestock rotation, water conservation, the difference between annual and perennial plants, and the joys and hardships of farming.
After the tour, students got hands-on experience innoculating white oak logs with shittake mushroom spawn, making cider from locally grown apples, planting cover crops in the pig pen, harvesting and chopping tomatoes, making salad dressing, and cooking peppers for lunch. We shared a delicious farm-raised lunch of beef burritos with tomatoes, peppers, a mixed-greens salad, and apple crisp for dessert.
At the end of the day we reviewed what we learned and everyone shared their favorite part of the day. The animals were very popular, especially the pigs. Students also enjoyed crushing the apples for cider, and eating lunch. One student thought “the way of life and how it’s so much different” was the most interesting part of the farm, and another commented that “farming not just benefits the farmer but everyone else”. The students also came up with lots of ideas about what to grow in the garden at school.
Students from kindergarten through middle school came out to plant the outdoor garden beds, with help from the high school agriculture students. Each class did a great job of keeping their beds watered, and the timing turned out just right for them to grow some beautiful greens and root crops before the frost. I also worked with the high school students in the school greenhouse. Tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants had been planted there over the summer, so we worked on weeding, watering, and harvesting those. Later in the fall we planted cool season crops, and interseeded winter wheat and clover into the summer beds.
The agriculture students each researched a crop they were interested in growing and created an information page including the scientific name, planting instructions, when to harvest, and how to prepare the crop for eating. This activity got them thinking about the planning that goes into a successful garden, and also introduced them to print and online resources available to help them.
We spent another rainy day discussing the three pillars of sustainable agriculture, the benefits of local and organic agriculture, and how to find a balance between conventional and sustainable techniques in world food production. The students had some great insights on how buying local and growing local is good for the community, and were particularly interested in the concept of “food miles”. We watched videos from the “Feeding the 9 Billion” and “Lexicon of Sustainability” series to stimulate discussion.
We wrapped up the fall semester with a presentation from April Wilson, our local NRCS representative,. She gave a great presentation to the freshman class about careers in agriculture and the changing demographics of today’s farms. We did a mapping activity to demonstrate the huge number people who are involved in agriculture, from truckers, to processing plant workers, to equipment manufacturers, and non-profit groups. She explained some of the trends in agricultural policy, and how non-profit and government programs are increasing support for non-traditional farmers and sustainable practices. We also discussed the aging farmer population and consolidation of farms, and how important it is for young people to take an interest in farming.
The students have been very responsive to this project. They are able to articulate how sustainable agriculture can benefit them, their community, and the world, and are also aware of the local and global challenges associated with food production. Their practice planting and maintaining the garden and greenhouse has prepared them to serve as mentors to the younger students and to apply these skills at home.
Although all parts of the project have been successful, I think the tour of Stella Luna Farm has had the greatest impact. They really enjoyed interacting with young farmers and observing their way of life first hand. One parent reported that the day after the tour her son declared he was going to become a farmer!
Our field trip and project were reported on by the Ozark County Times in the article “Lutie school promotes learning through school garden and sustainable farm tour” October 14, 2015.
Teachers have taken photos of the garden on a regular basis and shared them on the Lutie School Facebook page, which reaches over 470 followers (https://www.facebook.com/Lutie-R-VI-School-District )
I was also invited to give a presentation and slideshow to the Ozarks Heritage Garden Club, which is based in Theodosia, Missouri. Approximately 20 members attended the presentation, and the group expressed strong interest in engaging with the school garden.
I am already scheduled to speak about the project at a community event this Spring, and plan to submit a follow-up story to the newspaper.
WORK PLAN FOR 2016
I will work with the students approximately 4 more times before wrapping up the project. We will start back up in March 2016 with a lesson on seed starting and greenhouse seedling management. We will get the outdoor gardens planted as soon as the weather allows. In addition to the hands-on work, lessons will focus on nutrition, cooking from the garden, and why healthy food access is a very important issue in our local community.
The garden “open house” will be held in May before school gets out. Parents, teachers, community members, and others who have assisted with the project will be invited to attend. Jeff and Rachel Barry, the farmers who hosted our field trip in the Fall, will be the guests of honor. They will have the opportunity to see how the students have applied what they observed at Stella Luna farm. The students will help prepare snacks featuring garden produce to serve at the event, and will explain the key sustainable agriculture practices they have learned about. A post-survey and discussion will be conducted to gauge what students found most interesting, and how they will use sustainable agriculture concepts at home or in their future career plans.
Many of the teachers at Lutie School have taken an interest in the garden, and I am confident that it will continue to thrive for years to come. I hope that this project will be a gateway for expanding Farm to School activities, and will serve as a positive example for other schools in the area.
farmer, Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and Licensed Dietitian
HC 71 Box 256
Ava, MO 65608
Office Phone: 4176860427
Agriculture/ FFA instructor
Lutie High School
5802 US HWY 160
Theodosia, MO 65761
Office Phone: 4172734150
RT 1, Box 50
Ava, MO 65608
Office Phone: 4176834816
HC 71 Box 256
Ava, MO 65608
Office Phone: 4176860427