Our Education Team Launches its Youth Programs with a visit from Manchester Middle School
As those of you who regularly drive north of Chelsea on M-52 know very well, this is a time of intensive development for us out here at Robin Hills Farm! Our Welcome Center, visible from the road, is nearing completion, and all hands are on deck ironing out the details to make way for our Grand Opening this fall.
Nevertheless, our Education Team is still hard at work scheduling and running programs out here at the Farm, from family nature hikes to Salsa Dance and East Coast Swing classes to last month’s tour group visits from da Vinci High School and Chelsea High School. And, last week, we hosted our very first full-blown, hands-on field trip, with eighty-seven sixth graders from Manchester Middle School!
For most of the sixth grade biology class at Manchester Middle, farming is nothing new. Many of the students live on family farms, counting egg collection and weeding the garden among their daily chores; for those who don’t, farms are still certainly a part of their daily landscape. Our Education Team faced the challenge of framing these concepts in new and exciting ways—and, not to mention, of putting on a program engaging enough to distract these students from the fact that scarcely more than twenty-four hours stood between them and summer vacation! From the start, our team of educators—Ben, our Education Director, his assistant Naomi and our Education Intern, Amanda—had their work cut out for them!
Caring for Livestock
But against the odds is the native element of our fearless staff here at Robin Hills Farm, and the Education Team rose to the test for their pilot field trip. The morning began with Where Food Comes From: Livestock Edition, as the students broke into groups and rotated between activities all around our free-range livestock ranch. Amanda led the Pasture Tour, providing an introduction to rotational grazing and animal husbandry and pointing out how these ideas are applied in our own operation. As she led students around the pasture, emphasizing the particular needs and qualities of domestic versus wild animals, they followed studiously along in their workbooks and stepped carefully around the bolder members of our free-range laying flock who happened by.
Inside the Pasture Barn, Ben guided the students through a mad science laboratory of testing tools to explore the hard numbers of pasture management—because, as the students learned, farmers have to care for their pasture if they expect the pasture to care for their animals! Pastured livestock operations imitate a grassland-grazer ecosystem, and require care on both ends. The students tested soil for pH and nutrients, examined soil transects for earthworms, calculated pasture stocking rates and grazing schedules, and compared pasture grass to roadside weeds for sugar content and chlorophyll.
Outside, with a little help from chaperones, Naomi held down the fort in the heart of our livestock area for some hands-on learning. Most of the kids were right at home, collecting eggs from our solar-powered mobile chicken coop, feeding grain to the flock and hay to the sheep, exploring our livestock tool shed for a behind-the-scenes look, broadcasting pasture seed—and, of course, giving some love to Sofia and Elena, our Highland calves! Though these girls are not the biggest fans of the heat, and stayed resolutely under their shade trees, they’re always open to some ear-scratches.
Picnic in the Amphitheater
After this jam-packed morning, the students took some time to rest, refresh, and explore our site a little. Though our Amphitheater has yet to see its debut as a performance venue, it’s enjoyed some attention as a fantastic picnic spot, and on this hot afternoon it was just the place to catch some shade and relax in the cool grass.
Working in the Garden
After lunch, our team launched right into Where Food Comes From: Veggie Edition! Each of our educators took charge of a group of students—Jeremy, our Event Coordinator, put on his educator hat and stepped in to lead a team—in a guided rotation through several activities in our organic vegetable garden! After a discussion on the anatomy, life stages, and various uses of plants, the students ventured into the field to identify living examples of these concepts. They then got a chance to play “farm detective,” investigating pest and disease issues in the veggie beds and prescribing treatment.
Finally, we gave them an opportunity to get involved in the process! Though harvesting—and eating!—ripe, sun-warmed organic strawberries proved the most popular activity in this section, the kids got their hands dirty as well. Some prepared beds, some transplanted herb starts, a brave few agreed to weed, and all were invited to seed and take home their very own basil and lemon balm plants.
A Successful Day!
At the end of the afternoon, everyone—students, chaperones, teachers, and our Education Team alike—was hot, thirsty, and tired, but it was the satisfying kind of tired that comes after a full day. For Ben and team, it was a triumphant sort of tired as well, as they handed off goodie bags to excited students, exchanged thanks with chaperones, and received a promise from a teacher of a return trip in the fall.
This fun-filled day on the farm was just the beginning for us! In the coming months, as we draw closer to opening and really kick into high gear, Ben, Amanda and Naomi will stay hard at work, developing and running more youth programming as well as carrying on with our adult enrichment classes. Next up on their docket: Eco Art and Science Camp! The noble business of education takes no summer break!