This piece was written by Sky Feller, CLC’s Lead Farm and Elementary Science Teacher.
From the time that Cornerstone Learning Community was first imagined, the founders envisioned a connection with a farm. The original motivation for this connection came from Betsey Brown’s formative experiences at the Catskills farm belonging to Manhattan Country School. Visits to the farm were a vital part of the student experience at the school, providing a chance to engage in a way of life and environment far removed from New York City. In 2012 Cornerstone initiated a formal school-to-farm pro-gram with Longview Farms in Havana, and I became the farm’s lead teacher and field trip coordinator.
The Browns have lived on Longview Farms for 12 years, and they focused the first ten years on re-storing the pine forests and raising their horses and dogs. In the past two years, they have begun the process of building a sustainable organic farm. The current farm projects include raising grass-fed Devon cattle and pastured chickens, growing healthy vegetables in a 2400 sq ft raised bed organic garden with a greenhouse, and producing renewable energy through a grid-tied solar system and a processor that turns waste vegetable oil into biodiesel.
This year seven grades have visited Longview, and by the end of the year all 9 grades will have visited. We have a projected 42 visits planned! The farm provides a rich array of experiences for the students that teachers are tying into their science, social studies, service learning, and community building. Here are some of the highlights from this year’s farm visits:
Pre-K met the horses and chickens and planted the seeds that eventually became transplants for the campus gardens.
Kindergarten, first, and second grade students began taking on a subset of the farm chores by caring for the chickens and dogs, planting and harvesting in the gardens, and cleaning the barn each time they visit the farm.
Kindergarten has explored the farm with all their senses. They have learned about birds and built screech owl and wood duck houses. They have learned about the development of cows and chickens and how to care for these animals. They learned about how animals adjust to changing weather and had the chance to card and twist wool. They have looked for traces of animals and learned to make plaster casts of animal tracks. Their final trips this year will allow them to go fishing and to share books and relaxation with their reading buddies.
First grade has taken their bee study out of the classroom and counted the number of flowers a bee visits in 1 minute and compared guard donkeys to guard bees. They have applied their class exploration of maps into learning to use maps to navigate around the farm. They are comparing the development and habits of herd animals on the farm to their class study of elephants.
Second grade has taken sensory walks, honing their observation skills. They have gathered information about the life of the farm, the farmers, and their animals and are creating a book about the farm that incorporates drawings, interviews and non-fiction writing. They have taken their soil study into the field and compared soil samples and soil horizons from different farm locations. Students have learned about mushrooms and inoculated sweetgum logs with shiitake mushroom spores.
Third grade has identified plant parts in the garden, and used the farm grounds to practice their map-reading skills as they navigated a course. They will finish their farm year by joining their Kindergarten reading buddies for a celebration at the farm.
Fourth grade uses the farm in its Florida ecology studies and has begun a year-long study of phenology at the farm, recording changes in the appearance of plants and animals as the seasons change. They had the chance to peer into a gopher tortoise burrow through a “gopher-cam” and to learn how environmental scientists collect and compare soil samples. Students have witnessed a prescribed burn and compared the structure and diversity of forest areas managed for timber versus that managed as part of restoration efforts. Students are using their farm experiences to create a book about the species of the longleaf pine forest ecosystem and their relationship with fire. They will close the year with a reading buddy trip with second grade.
Fifth grade followed up a taxonomy unit with a trip to the farm where they applied their knowledge of plant characters that are useful for identification. Students also learned to collect and press plant specimens in the way that botanists do.
Fourth and fifth grade students contributed to Longview’s restoration efforts by planting upwards of 600 longleaf pine trees at the farm this year.
Middle school students will participate in an intensive design project at the farm- helping to design a kiosk, trail maps and interpretive signs, as well as a brochure for the farm.
Thank you to all of the parents and family members who have joined us for trips to Longview this year. We look forward to many years of learning and life experiences on the farm and hope you will join us as often as you can.