New Hampshire Agriculture in the Classroom coordinates and participates in several School to Farm events throughout the state. These are programs where multiple farmers come to a central location and set up learning stations. Numerous schools visit the stations to learn about what the farmers do. It's a great way to expose students to the variety of farms that exist in our state and help them see first hand some of the people, animals and plants that provide their food and fiber. (If you would like to participate in one of these events, please contact us.)
Another approach is used by the Woodsville Elementary School in Grafton County and the Moore School in Candia. Rather than bringing the students to the farmers, they bring the farmers to the school. For the fourth year, the Moore School has sponsored an Agricultural Day (now called the Agriculture and Environment day) with the purpose of raising student awareness of the sources of their food and fiber and also the importance of past agricultural heritage and current environmental stewardship.
Nancy Maloney, a health teacher at the Moore School says she and colleagues were inspired by a visit to the Farm and Forest Exposition in Manchester a few winters ago. They decided they would hold their own expo at school which could address GLE's, and state requirements in health, science and other core curriculum.
I interviewed Nancy about their recent Agriculture and Environment Day to learn more about how it works.
NHAITC: What types of presenters attend your event?
Nancy: We had a huge variety this year, 25 in all. They included Master Gardeners from UNH Extension, a beekeeper, chicken farmer, wool spinner, local food advocates and students from Jessie Remington High School doing post and beam barn construction. The animals included oxen, a mini horse, alpaca, sheep and lambs, goats, rabbits, and even Smokey the Bear!
NHAITC: How did you find these farm related presenters?
Nancy: We're lucky. Candia has a strong agricultural heritage and still has quite a few farms. We focused on utilizing our own community resources first and then branched out when necessary.
NHAITC: How has response been from teachers, students, parents, farmers and the community?
Nancy: The community and farmers are very supportive. Getting speakers is not a problem. Now that word is out, they call me months in advance to get involved.
Some 4-H groups have started in town, probably as a result of these days. More people in town are planting gardens, raising chickens, and are aware of agriculture in town. We're starting a school garden with help from a Master Gardener.
Other teachers have come to see that the day is very educational and know that the kids love it.
NHAITC: What is the most rewarding part for you and your students?
Nancy: Feedback from presenters is great, they enjoy the kids. The kids are learning things in a meaningful way.
NHAITC: What is the most challenging part of this event?
Nancy: Scheduling and logistics. I needed to learn to use Excel to organize it all! Each grade level sees 5 speakers and does a general tour. Students spend 30 minutes at each station, which is too long for younger kids and not long enough for older kids.
It's also a challenge to figure out how to get more people, especially parents, involved so the whole community can benefit. Some parents come to volunteer but it would be great to expose more families to these resources.
NHAITC: Do you have some favorite resources or ideas that others from different areas might utilize?
Nancy: UNHMaster Gardeners (available in each county), your PTO - ours provides lunch for presenters, Farm & Forest, local businesses like Agway for in-kind donations, we also use high school students as volunteers.
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If you are inspired to try something like this at your school or in your town, Nancy is willing to chat with folks and invites individuals (not classes) to come and observe their event next spring. Nancy can be reached at nmaloney@SAU15.net. NHAITC can also help connect you with farmers, provide resources and consultation. Contact us if you're interested.