Hickory Nut Gap Farm’s “parents” aren’t buying the farm snazzy new clothes and a super cool new backpack, but they are giving it a back-to-school makeover. After all, students will begin arriving for field trips almost as soon as the first bell of 2012-2013.
“We’ve been gearing up since June,” shares Amy Ager, a co-owner of the Fairview farm and co-operator of Hickory Nut Gap Meats with her husband, Jamie. “We’ve been clearing the barns of heavy equipment and pig bedding, planning lessons and choosing the animals we want to meet the children.”
That’s music to the ears of Raegan Solomon and the other third-grade teachers at Haw Creek Elementary who are planning to visit within the first month of school. They will begin working with students in the school’s garden right away, starting with pH soil testing to see if amendments need to be added, followed by weeding, tilling, and planting fall veggies. “The farm field trip will help build the excitement of our own garden for students,” Solomon shares.
In fact, the excitement is palpable now for Solomon as she thinks about the experiences her students will have at Hickory Nut Gap. While there, they’ll taste apples; meet, hold and feed animals; learn about pollination, solve a corn maze and much more.
Haw Creek received funding for the field trip through ASAP’s Growing Minds Farm to School Program. ASAP and Growing Minds offered 10 farm field mini-grants for 2012. Schools from pre-K through high school in counties across the region received funding. In Asheville, Evergreen Community Charter School also received a grant to visit Hickory Nut Gap Farm this fall.
ASAP’s Growing Minds has also provided Haw Creek with resources for its school garden and helped pair them with area chefs — Eric Backer and Wendy Robinson — for local food classroom cooking demos.
“The Growing Minds Farm to School Program has had a huge impact on our third grade classrooms at Haw Creek,” says Solomon, who shares that each of the four third-grade classrooms works at least once a week in the garden all year long alongside their teachers. “It’s amazing to watch students become completely engrossed in the gardening process. I believe that the excitement we bring to the program is carried on through the students, and it’s a contagious feeling that they’ve taken into their homes. Many parents have let us know the gardening projects they’re now tackling at home, almost always at the insistence of their child!”
That contagious excitement is exactly why Amy and Jamie take on the extra chores this time of year.
“Last year, one second grader who had never held a baby chick before returned to the farm every weekend after her field trip for almost two months,” Amy shares. “She would go straight to the chicken brooder to observe the young chicks and see how they had grown. She even followed the same group of chicks out to pasture to watch them as adults. At the end of our fall season, she told me she wanted to raise laying hens. She asked her grandmother if she could, and the answer was ‘yes!’”
Impacts Behind Farm to School Institute
For school staff and community members interested in seeing the positive impacts of Farm to School programming firsthand, as Ager and Solomon have, ASAP’s Growing Minds will offer a Farm to School Institute on Nov. 10 at the Wilma M. Sherrill Center on the UNC Asheville Campus. The institute is designed to provide the training and resources needed for implementing successful Farm to School programs. Workshops will be geared specifically for teachers, early childhood educators, chefs, parents, and child nutrition staff. Registration is open now; visit growing-minds.org.
For more information about Farm to School happenings this school year, including which local food will be featured in cafeterias in August, visit growing-minds.org. The site has a comprehensive database for Farm to School books and recipes for parents and teachers alike, as well as lesson plans for educators.
— Maggie Cramer is ASAP’s communications manager; she can be reached at email@example.com