Farm to School + Weed Walk

Part One: Farm to School

Today was the first Farm to School field trip of the season!  The School Garden Project of Lane County helps coordinate and lead these biannual field trips with the third grade classes from the nearby Guy Lee Elementary School.  That organization works with schools to lead garden-based lessons and support school gardens all around this area, and this is a one-of-a-kind program that they took on from Willamette Farm and Food Coalition a year or two ago.  The idea is to supplement the kids' garden learning with field trips to a production farm, to give them more experience observing life cycles and ecological processes, helping with real farm work, and practicing preparing food from freshly harvested vegetables and fruits.  Each class comes once in the fall and once in the spring, so this was their second time to the farm this school year.  Parent chaperones help guide the kids throughout the activities, and two staff from School Garden Project walk to class from the school to the farm and lead two of the three rotating stations.

They arrive soon after we open, and I give a welcome talk to the whole group to review what we do at the farm, what's happening this spring here, and how to stay safe while they're visiting.  At the end of the field trip, we gather again and I explain how they can get involved (volunteer with their families, shop at our farm stands, get plants at our plant sale, and observe the farm on their own time).  For the bulk of the morning, we're each leading a group of 5-10 kids in the salad preparation and tasting, farm tour, or "helping task". 

Today, they helped by harvesting a bed of overwintered, bolting Swiss chard to send to the food bank.  Next time it might be planting potatoes, or in the fall they might harvest peppers.  In any case, I try to keep their attention long enough to give clear instructions about how to do the task well (how to pull the leaves off, how to choose which leaves to harvest, where to walk in the field, etc), then let them loose for about 20 minutes.  There's constant feedback to give and questions to answer, and it's fun to approach a project like that with different eyes.  They comment on the itchy weeds among the chard, notice bugs I'd overlook, and show off almost every leaf they find to harvest.  Forget the cartload of chard we delivered at the end of the day.  The whole process is a stream of victories.

Harvesting chard with local third graders

Harvesting chard with local third graders

Part Two: Weed Walk

Once the kids had eaten lunch and walked back to school, and I had opened greenhouses and started watering, and the intern crew had harvested our overwintered onions and leeks and gotten them safely in the coolers, we gathered.  I rarely have any length of time at the farm when I'm not focused on being productive-- tackling the treadmill of long lists of projects to complete to keep the ship afloat.  This afternoon, I got to fully stop thinking about all that to lead a workshop which I called "Non-commercial useful plants at the Youth Farm".  I immediately include the caveat that "useful" is a loaded term, and that every plant has value whether or not humans find a use for it as food, medicine, dye, or fiber.  

I can't go into all the content here now, but hopefully I'll be able to touch on it more throughout the season.  My goal for the class was to simply introduce folks to a variety of plants that grow on the farm land that we don't intentionally plant or harvest, but that can help heal as food or medicine.  We got through a fraction of the list I wrote out-- we could've kept going for hours, it seemed-- but I think we accomplished my goal: to introduce some healthy perspectives and approaches to plant medicine like humility, respect, and curiosity, get to know some key plants through our senses, and pique everyone's interest in the subject so we can dive back in at a later date.  

For those curious, we talked specifically about stinging nettle, motherwort, comfrey, plantain, dandelion, chickweed, agrimony, and elecampane, and met several more plants that we didn't have time to explore in depth.  I felt so thankful to my teachers who taught me to know the plants by seeing, smelling, and tasting, to harvest with intention and respect, and to interact with the plants from a place of joy and patience.  It was such a good reminder for me, to speak about those things to a group of other people, and I hope it was a good introduction for them.