Photo by Sean Fraga
I recently returned to Maine Coast Semester, a program for high school juniors run by the Chewonki Foundation. I taught at MCS before coming to Yale, and while my role as a faculty member there was to teach American History and another course in Environmental Issues, it was there that I launched my ongoing covert study of the role of school farms and gardens in educating young people.
The director of MCS had invited me back to talk about the Sustainable Food Project. I talk about the Sustainable Food Project a lot, but this audience had me nervous: 40 wicked smart 16-year-olds. Moreover, these young people had spent a semester doing rigorous academic work coupled with physical work on the ten-acre Chewonki Farm. They had gathered eggs, milked cows, moved sheep fencing, planted spring greens, and split wood. Some of them had cared for Sal, the 1,200-pound work horse.
What was I possibly going to tell them about the pedagogical importance of a school farm?
I decided I had a lot to learn from them. (You might recognize this as an old but honest teacher trick: Ask the students.) I'm pretty adamant that time spent working on a farm or in a garden connects students to the land and that, in doing so, gives them the capacity to care about the environment. They mulled this idea over, but they threw back other answers from their experience thoughtfully and carefully.