Seeing a child experience the farm for the first time is a remarkable thing. A bustling energy permeates the farm and the sounds of children sweep across the fields. The joy in their eyes as they see a turkey show off or their giddy, nervous laugh as they dig their fingers into the soft wool of a sheep is profound and beautiful. The taste of a mid-summer strawberry, picked right from the plant is a transformational one.
These memories stay with them, and the ideas last longer than their time on the farm.
Of course, as educators, we can never know the full impact the farm has on a child. However, our intention is to plant a seed of connection and respect towards the natural world, one that needs to be nourished and fed. We understand that a single field trip may not change the course of a child’s life forever. But we can foster this relationship by inviting children back during multiple seasons or by playing the important role of planting that first seed. We hope the experiences children are given at the Farm act as a springboard for later in life, and that they will grow up to be politically engaged citizens, farmers and gardeners, natural builders and cooks. These are the children who respect the earth, who tend the land, and have the strength to speak when they feel the earth needs to be spoken for.
This season was a banner year for children at White Oak Farm and Education Center. We taught preschoolers to high schoolers, hosted daylong trips for elementary children and led two week long overnight summer FarmStays. Perhaps the most inspiring and transformational of all was the three day, overnight program for the agriculture class from Illinois Valley High School. We tutored students in the curriculum and techniques we use at White Oak Farm. The culmination was on the third day when a 2nd grade class from Madrona Elementary came for a field trip. The high school class led and taught the entire trip. Students of all ages flourished and were energized by the experience. The 2nd graders left reluctantly with turkey feathers in hand and the high schoolers left, shortly after, saying good-byes to their new farm family. The impact we made is no doubt a long lasting one, something that will shape the high schoolers for years to come.
We are also extending our farm family with the help of Rogue Valley Farm to School. Starting this spring, we met with the talented staff of RVF2S to combine forces and educate more children from across Josephine and Jackson counties. Rogue Valley Farm to School’s signature field trip is the “Harvest Meal” in which children come to the farm to harvest and prepare a multi course lunch. This fall we hosted ten of these Harvest Meals. The students prepared meals of freshly made garden vegetable pizza and salad or winter squash soup with salad and fresh baguettes. Along with Harvest Meals, RVF2S also connects local farms with schools to provide fresh, local produce to cafeterias and has recently started growing school gardens in several school districts. We are overjoyed to be working with this incredible non- profit and we look forward to years of shared growth and learning.
Whether it be a Harvest Meal, a high school overnight trip, or Summer FarmStay, here at White Oak Farm and Education Center, we feel incredibly grateful to be a part of these experiences and transformations. We cherish the delighted laughter next to the cider press, the deep concentration on a child’s face as she tries to catch a tree frog for the first time, and the incredibly poignant questions during the farm tour. These memories will warm our hearts long after the last child has left the farm in fall, and even after the first snows of January signal the beginning of the next year of children on the farm.