A Survey

Are there teachers interested in conducting an informal survey of how many of their students actually live on a farm? During October, designated our Farm to School Month, it seems a natural subject for teachers to ask the question, especially with unique (should we call them ‘ulterior’ ?) motives behind the fact-finding. What’s the purpose?

Consider the school surroundings. Are their farms within a few miles of the school buildings? Are most of them row crop farms, fruit and vegetables farms, or both, with neither type in the majority? Maybe there are vineyards or commercial poultry operations, a fast-vanishing dairy operation or even the humble pig farm close by.

The last Farm to School Census took place in 2015 and produced a survey that took into account all self-reported Farm to School activities by each school involved taking place across the country.  The Farm to School Census is coming to your inbox again in 2019 to evaluate data from the 2017-2018 school year. We are half-way through the fall semester – so now is a good time to think about how to track your farm to school activities.

If teachers found their students had farmer-parents, wouldn’t those farms be a natural resource for lesson plans? Rather than scheduling a field trip to a remote location and having a stranger trying to explain farming in twenty minutes to fifteen restless schoolkids, wouldn’t it be better to visit Jimmy Brown’s family farm? The students could bring a sandwich and picnic under the apple orchard trees while Jimmy told everyone about how his grandfather worked that same farm years ago. Getting a look at the hard work everyone does on a farm might show the city kids why Jimmy sometimes misses school, helping to get the crops in. The farm kids might realize the city kids really don’t know how their food gets into those plastic-wrapped packages until someone explains the process to them. Another advantage is that shared experiences, even for just an afternoon, usually leads to fewer misunderstandings between peer groups.

What seed will you plant today?

Terri Jenkins-Brady

Dixie Chile Ranch

A Life-Long Teaching Farm

October is Farm to School Month.
But what if you reversed it, and made the farm into the classroom?

What if farming was not just reserved for FFA and 4-H groups? Farming is a skill that should reach all of us since we all have to eat – what if we could extend agricultural opportunities to ALL students? And just to add a new flavor into the soup – what if we could create a life-long learning farm open to more than just students – inviting the community to participate? Living on a small farm myself, I hear from old friends and classmates about how much they wish they had the quiet of the countryside and the up close, very personal interactions with farm animals and Mother Nature herself. People claim they’d like to ‘retire to a little farm somewhere’ but have no idea how to make that wish happen.

Lisa Green Douglas, acting on “Green Acres”, proved any city girl can make it in the country

Remember Lisa Douglas on “Green Acres,” when she described “watching the little wheat stalks shoosting up out of the ground.” Even an ancient TV sitcom can sometimes contribute an idea of value. 

Many people enjoy watching their plants grow in their garden. If they could sign up for lessons in growing food, would they do so? Especially if they’d be out in the open air, rain or shine, wrestling with pigweed and keeping an eye out for ground hornets, would they enjoy the lessons truly based in reality? Would farming be the next enjoyable step for them, as they learned to grow food instead of geraniums?

Could entire families come for a month in the summer and take home the knowledge they would need to become self-reliant?  Bring the kids, the grandparents, the aunties and the bachelor uncle – hmmm. Wait a minute. Sounds like the farm family of the 1900s or later. Ideally, everyone pitched in, according to their abilities, to make the family farm support as many folks as it could.

America’s agrarian roots are still within family history and memories of the elders. What if we made those memories into textbooks?

What seed will you plant today?
Terri Jenkins-Brady
Dixie Chile Ranch

Yes, October is Farm to School Month

While I whole-heartedly agree with our girls taking STEM courses and the boys learning child care, there’s also another skill set every human needs to learn: how to literally place food on the table or in the cupboard for later consumption.

Our pioneer skills are rapidly being forgotten. Newly-urbanized families are reluctantly admitting the everyday things the grandparents knew how to do are vanishing from daily use. Perhaps a hypothetical family, the Smiths, has only been city-dwellers for one or two generations. And this is for the very good reason of having better jobs or careers. But those same Smiths may find themselves also living in a food desert, no matter how expensive the neighborhood, without a grocery store close by or the abilities necessary to raise, cook, and preserve or store even ordinary foods.

It’s happened too many in the Boomer generation: how many know how to can fruit or vegetables, freeze meat the correct amount of time or store dried beans and peas in glass jars? Neither the X generation or Millennials have fared any better.

What if the old-fashioned Home Ec teachers made a comeback, under the auspices of the USDA and county agents around the country? Students would enroll online, then travel a short distance to a working farm, to closely observe how their food is grown in the fields. Students could help pick, gather, haul in the crop they were studying. Next step: the local commercial kitchen, newly installed at that farm, in which the Home Ec teachers would guide the students through hot-water bath canning, pressure cooking, making jerky and fruit leathers, utilizing a freezer to its greatest extent.

Talk about a self-sufficient nation! Our forefathers and foremothers would be immensely proud of us, making the absolute best of all our resources, using sunshine, rain, good rich soil and being certain everyone, of any age, learned a skill and ate better meals. It’s something to consider, this ‘morphing’ a farm into a school of better nutrition.

What seed will you plant today?

Terri Jenkins-Brady

Dixie Chile Ranch

Students Prompted to Promote Produce

In celebration of October as Farm-to-School Month, the Weakley County School Nutrition Department, the Northwest Tennessee Local Food Network and Weakley Arts Can have organized a district-wide Harvest of the Month poster contest. All students in Weakley County Schools are invited to participate.

Harvest of the Month is an educational marketing program that encourages students to learn more about local food including its seasonality and sustainability. Each month a different fruit or vegetable is highlighted, reflecting the current growing season in Northwest Tennessee.

The Harvest of the Month program’s goal is to encourage healthy food choices by increasing Northwest Tennessee residents’ exposure to seasonal local foods while also supporting farmers and building excitement about home cooked meals, explain organizers.

To enter the poster contest, students must portray one of the prescribed fruits or vegetables (see photo) and submit entries to the school cafeteria manager by October 31.

The poster size should not exceed 8 ½ in. x 11 in. The student’s name, grade, teacher and school should be written on the back of the poster.

Prizes will be awarded at each school in Weakley County. The overall winning artwork will be displayed in every cafeteria across the school district, recognized in the press and online, and used for Harvest of the Month marketing materials starting in 2020.

Harvest of the Month is a program of the NWTN Local Food Network to help increase access to local foods.

~ Karen Campbell
Communications Director
Weakley County Schools