School-Farm Partnerships: Creating Natural Systems of Education for Food Production and Environmental Stewardship

Project Overview

Project Type: Youth Educator
Funds awarded in 2017: $2,000.00
Projected End Date: 01/31/2019
Grant Recipient: Good Shepherd Montessori School
Region: North Central
State: Indiana
Project Manager:
Dr. Eric Oglesbee
Good Shepherd Montessori School


Not commodity specific


  • Crop Production: cover crops, no-till, seed saving, water storage
  • Education and Training: workshop, youth education
  • Production Systems: holistic management, permaculture
  • Soil Management: composting

    Proposal abstract:

    Project Abstract

    The proposed project includes 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 will be hired to spend one farming cycle training students and staff. The goal is to expand local food production and facilitate hands on knowledge of environmental stewardship. Each week, classroom lessons will be augmented by landwork that supports academic lessons. Planned projects include installing a 1000 gallon water capturing system, a composting and vermiculture system to cycle lunchroom waste, and a small greenhouse structure.

    Detailed Project Plan and Timeline

    Good Shepherd Montessori School (GSMS) will hire Therese Niemier of Bertrand Farm, Inc. (BFI) to present 12 lessons (presented twice each week for a total of 24 classes) beginning April, 2017 and concluding October, 2017. Ms. Niemier has been active in promoting restoration agriculture within the South Bend region for 20 years. The proposed educational program involves a combination of indoor classroom activities and outdoor fieldwork completed over the course of two semesters. Spring semester will include Tuesday and Thursday classes from 9 a.m. - 11:30 a.m. held with Ms. Niemier and one GSMS teacher. The class will be divided into two groups, half to attend on Tuesdays and half on Thursdays, each receiving the same instruction . Each session will include 30 - 45 minutes of indoor instruction built around prepared materials (e.g., PowerPoint slides, YouTube videos, and magazine articles) and presentations by guest farmers. Each session will also have 105 - 120 minutes of outdoor, hands on land work. For the outdoor, experiential portion, students will actively engage in food production as an exercise in earth stewardship and environmental science. They will learn how restoration agriculture mitigates climate change through experiential activities.

    The specific sustainable practices that will be included in the 12 week lesson plan include:
    Agriculture Systems/Carbon farming - How do plants cycle carbon? Introduce the soil food web.(Spring-17) Water Conservation - What systems of water capture can be installed on this property to reduce or eliminate the use of ground water in our gardens. Design a plan and implement it including swales and gutter water capture system. (Spring-17)

    Perennial and annual farming- study plant science handouts to create guilds for symbiotic relationships. Include companion planting for annuals and linear food forest for perennials. Design and implement one acre of production (Spring-17) .

    Drip irrigation - What it is and how to use it with water capture system design- (Spring-17)

    Mulching - Using carbon to feed micro-organisms, suppress weeds and hold moisture. How can we cycle carbon waste from the school? Students will use paper and cardboard waste to mulch perennial gardens and when creating new garden areas.(Spring-17).

    Crop rotation - Students will learn how crop rotation can naturally limit pest and disease problems while increase fertility. Students will create an eight year crop rotation plan for their garden including fallow and cover crop usage. (Spring-17)

    Composting/ Compost tea/Vermiculture - Creating our own fertility will be central to the closed system the students will create using school waste from the lunchroom and classrooms Students will review several designs and chose one to build and use for composting and one for vermiculture (Spring-17).

    No Till Philosophy- Students will learn and use a no till practice for the greatest potential of carbon sinking (Spring-17).

    Cover crops - Combating soil erosion and increasing fertility; A look at specific cover crop plants and the pros and cons of use including: long and short term benefits; legumes; deep and shallow rooted covers, winter kill and green manures (Fall-17)

    Seed saving of heirloom and open pollinated seed. Introduce annual and biannual collection of seed. Explore seed saving techniques(wet and dry). Students will create an inventory of saved seeds.Students will Inventory and order seed for next season (Fall-17).

    Season Extension Fall and Spring includes:- seedling starting with block system, seed starting soil mixtures using vermiculture and compost, hoop house production, row covers for outside production. Winter gardening of spinach, heavy greens and some roots (Fall-17).

    Preserving produce-Students will encage in food preservation including: canning, freezing, fermenting and dehydrating (Fall-17).

    Saturday workshops (Spring 2017) include: installing a water capture system and building composting and vermiculture bins.

    Saturday workshops (Fall 2017) include:building a 12 X 20” hoop house off a south facing brick school wall and facilitating further expansion of the garden at GSMS using lasagna garden construction.

    Resources Used

    We will be hiring Therese Niemier, farmer and educator, to oversee the education and training involved in this project. Ms. Niemier is the director of Bertrand Farm Inc. (BFI), a non-profit educational farm that has trained beginner farmers and taught students and community members about restoration agriculture since 1996. She will be responsible for facilitating 24 educational sessions with Junior High teachers and students and leading four Saturday workshop days with students, parents and community members. Ms. Niemier is a former SARE recipient (FNC12­896, An Internship Curriculum for Food Farmers in the North Central Region). Examples of educational materials used in her training courses include: Acres USA magazine articles, YouTube videos including ATTRA and S.A.R.E. publications, the movie INHABIT, articles and essays from Micheal Pollen, Wendell Barry, and syndicated columnist Alan Guebert, and books, including The Transition Companion by Rob Hopkins and Organic Farming by Elliott Coleman. In addition, Ms. Niemier typically incorporates discussions of current news stories and events that are appropriate.

    All construction materials for the project will be purchased or donated by the school community.

    Workshop days will include volunteer hours from the school and surrounding community and will be advertised through school communications to parents and through social media.
    Several members of the Good Shepherd Montessori School staff will be involved in the project.

    Laura Garvey and Andrew Garvey (Junior High teachers) will be responsible for day-to-day maintenance of the project. Mark McDonell (Building Services Director) will assist with developing the project’s infrastructure and supporting project work days. Heather Bokon (GSMS Administrative Assistant) will facilitate communication about the project with GSMS constituents and the wider community.


    Throughout the duration of the project, students will use social media to update the community on our progress. In May 2016, GSMS students will be hosting a Sustainability Conference. This conference is a yearly event, and each year a different theme is explored. The 2016 theme is Water Conservation. The audience typically includes students from area schools, GSMS parents, local public officials (including the mayor of South Bend), university faculty, and local media. Students provide presentations on sustainability issues and provide tours of the landworks on the GSMS grounds. For the upcoming conference, students will be able to showcase the proposed water capture system. Based on attendance in previous years, as many as 200 visitors to the GSMS campus are anticipated. In addition, produce from the student gardens will be incorporated into the luncheon served at the conference. GSMS is also host to annual symposia through the Montessori Consortium of the Great Lakes ( Through these symposia, area educators have an opportunity to experience the land-based curriculum at GSMS. We also anticipate sharing results of the project at the Spring 2018 area-wide Montessori conference, also hosted at GSMS. Within Good Shepherd, gardens will be available to all classrooms for tasting and enrichment of class curriculums. Lastly, the proposed project includes four teacher, parent and community work days that will be structured as educational events for volunteers participating in the work.

    Student and Community Impact

    The desired impact of this project is to expose students and community members to sustainable agricultural practices. The primary measure of impact will be a count of the number of people who come into contact with the project through classroom activities, volunteering, conferences, or other community events.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    1. Train Junior High students and teachers in food production with an emphasis on conservation of natural resources.

    2. Engage students with sustainable practices including agriculture systems/carbon farming, perennial and annual farming, drip irrigation, mulching, crop rotation, composting, no-till and cover crops, seed saving, season extension, and preservation of produce.
    3. Extend impact of program to a wider audience through social media posts, students hosting a Sustainability Conference, and attending and presenting project results at other regional conferences.
    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.